Basalt police theory: Man botched homicide
BASALT Basalt police are investigating a theory that a man shot himself in desperation Saturday after his clothing accidentally caught on fire in a botched attempt to kill a local woman.It appears the man used a flammable liquid to start a fire at one half of a duplex in hopes of flushing out his victim, according to authorities. Instead he ignited his clothing, fled the house and squeezed the trigger of a semiautomatic rifle as his last act.Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda stressed that the investigation is in its early stages, but he confirmed that the department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are taking a hard look at the angle of an attempted homicide gone awry. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis didn’t release the man’s identity on Monday because he hadn’t been positively identified. Police said an autopsy was complete, but Bettis said she hadn’t received results as of deadline time.Police believe the man was a 50-year-old with a last known address in Commerce City and that he worked in Denver.The man was found outside a residence at 26A Riversedge Court in Basalt’s Elk Run subdivision at 5 a.m. Saturday. He suffered burns over nearly all of his body and a severe gunshot wound, according to Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson, who examined the man at the scene to see if he needed medical transport.”If he did not die from a gunshot, he would have died from the burns,” Thompson said.The evidence unveiled a “pretty straightforward” scenario at the house, said Basalt Sgt. Mark Langford. “He was there to do evil.”The woman at the residence had a prior relationship with the man that police wouldn’t fully disclose. The woman was not injured in the incident, nor were any neighbors. There were reports of multiple gunshots during the incident, but police believe the fire that engulfed the man’s clothing ignited extra ammunition he carried in his pockets.Ikeda said the man’s car was found roughly three blocks away from the duplex near the entrance to Arbaney Park. The man gained entry to the house and apparently attempted to start a fire by spreading a flammable liquid.”I could see pour patterns on the floors,” Thompson said.A CBI arson specialist examined the scene.The man apparently made a fatal mistake during the process, and his clothing started on fire. His footprints lead from the interior of the residence to the front yard, where he died. A neighbor used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames on the burning man, Ikeda said.The deceased man was found with a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle. Evidence indicates that the weapon fired only one round. The man’s face was blown off, and the injury was consistent with the bullet traveling up from the chin, according to sources familiar with the case.Ikeda said suicide “makes the most sense” in the man’s death.Langford said the man carried several rounds of ammunition in his pockets. As he was engulfed by fire, the .223-caliber cartridges exploded. The man’s body prevented shrapnel from flying into the neighborhood, Langford said.Police don’t believe other homes were in danger. They found 20 bullet casings that “cooked off” in the fire, Langford said.While the man’s death appears to be a suicide, investigators cannot rule out the possibility that someone else shot him, Ikeda said. The woman living at the duplex told investigators she never saw or heard anyone. She said awoke from a “deep sleep” and found the fire near the front door of her one-floor residence, according to Ikeda.”We have no reason to suspect her of anything, but we’re early in this investigation, so we can’t rule anything out,” he said.Thompson said the duplex sustained moderate fire damage and extreme smoke damage. A couch, drapery and rugs burned, but the fire didn’t have enough oxygen to spread. Firefighters and an ambulance crew from Basalt responded and left the crime scene as intact as possible, he said.Ikeda said the woman apparently targeted in the incident was “upset.” Investigators are exploring the deceased man’s background to see if there was any clues to what triggered his actions, Ikeda said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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