Before Punchbowl episode, Graham had legal struggles |

Before Punchbowl episode, Graham had legal struggles

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
William Graham

On April 14, William Graham wrote a letter to a Pitkin County judge asking for permission to own a firearm, following a criminal conviction that prohibited him from having one. A little more than six weeks earlier, Graham allegedly used a chair to barricade himself inside his Basalt apartment, where he sat on a couch drinking vodka straight from a bottle. Earlier that day, he had expressed suicidal thoughts, according to court records.

Graham is scheduled to appear in Pitkin County Court on Tuesday, June 9, for further proceedings in three criminal cases, all misdemeanors. But the 31-year-old has been missing since Thursday. Authorities believe he leapt to his death in the Devil’s Punchbowl east of Aspen.

Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Monday he does not believe Graham went to the Punchbowl aiming to take his life. The sheriff is aware of Graham’s troubled history: He has been a recent regular in the local court system because of a chain of domestic-violence, trespassing and bond-violation arrests, all with his alcohol consumption as an underlying factor.

“At this point, anything is speculation,” the sheriff said. “There’s no evidence of foul play, and No. 2, there’s no evidence that this was intentional. Obviously jumping in was intentional, and from all indications this looks like a tragedy.”

Authorities found beer cans inside Graham’s vehicle, which was located in the Punchbowl parking area. DiSalvo couldn’t say if the cans were empty or open.

Graham caught the attention of authorities Thursday on a report that a drunken motorist was driving up Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. A City Market employee made the report from the supermarket. Graham, who was alone at the time, had alcohol on his breath, the employee told authorities.

The Punchbowl, a popular location for swimmers, is in a turbulent state now because it’s peak runoff season, the sheriff said. Its water is aerated, and “you can’t float,” DiSalvo said. The Sheriff’s Office has delayed a recovery effort until the water is safe for swimmers. DiSalvo said that could take weeks if not months.

“There’s no polite way to say this: We’re waiting for him to reappear,” he said.

DiSalvo was adamant that thrill-seekers should stay clear of the Punchbowl now.

“The only thing I can do is give a stern warning to the whole community that the water is 40 degrees, which is a hard temperature to sustain when water is not moving. And then to have moving water that basically will act like a vacuum and pull you under the surface, that area is to be avoided,” he said. “We’re only getting more melting snow and more rain. It’s a very dangerous place to be. It will suck you in.”

A troubled history

“I am writing this letter to you about getting my Second Amendment right back,” Graham wrote in a letter to Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely in April. “I was charged with domestic violence and criminal mischief, the domestic violence was dropped but I pleaded guilty to criminal mischief. Preventing me the right to bear arms. The right to bear arms is very important to me because of being a veteran in the 82nd Airborne Division. It was also a big hobby of mine that has been very helpful, I liked to go hunting from time to time.”

Graham’s letter is part of his case for violating probation from a criminal-mischief conviction in April 2013.

The judge revoked Graham’s bond and probation in January 2014 after he breached the order’s terms by violating a protection order on three separate occasions in Basalt in 2013 and once in Aspen in 2013. Records also show he consumed alcohol three times in 2013, also a violation of the protection order. Graham also didn’t undergo domestic-violence treatment or pay any court fees or fines, both conditions of his probation.

Fernandez-Ely reinstated the probation, set for a period of 602 days, on Sept. 1. But Graham continued to run afoul of the law.

Aspen police most recently arrested him in January and March on suspicion of protection-order violations and trespassing. At the time of his March arrest, his blood-alcohol content tested 0.180, more than twice the legal limit, court records show. Police made the arrest after Graham’s girlfriend called to report his dire situation because he had made suicidal comments and was drinking heavily, according to court documents.

When police arrived at the woman’s Aspen apartment, Graham had barricaded his door with a chair. The girlfriend, who was accompanied by three police officers, forced her way inside. There, police saw him on the couch drinking vodka and arrested him on suspicion of probation violation.

In his letter to the judge, Graham wrote that he was trying to improve himself. He also alluded to a 2012 incident with his then-girlfriend. Graham allegedly became upset she didn’t understand the ending to the motion picture “Platoon,” striking her three times in the head, throwing the TV on the floor and ripping the cable out of the wall, court records show.

“Please take into consideration that the charges all stemmed from a very fiery and unhealthy relationship in which I’ve learned so much from,” Graham wrote. “I acted inappropriately by breaking the television but I have never put my hands on any women in a violent way in my life. You have been very patient and understanding with me during my cases and I am very appreciative. As for myself I am doing very well. I have been sober, working hard, and a productive citizen in our community. Thank you for all your time and consideration.”