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Coroner: Animal attack unlikely

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A man found dead near his rustic home on the backside of Aspen Mountain likely died of natural causes, the Pitkin County coroner said yesterday.

Rumors of a bear mauling circulated in Aspen after the body of longtime resident Dan Sweet was found in the woods near his cabin off Midnight Mine Road Saturday. The body had been partially consumed by animals, but authorities said Monday it is unlikely his death was caused by an animal attack.

Sweet, 48, was identified by friends. Police have not yet officially released his name, since they haven’t been able to find his next of kin.

Coroner Steve Ayers said the cause of death hasn’t been determined. He said Sweet had probably been dead for three to five days and that the autopsy showed no evidence of trauma.

Pitkin County Sheriff’s Investigator Joe DiSalvo said the condition of the body has made identifying the cause of death difficult.

“There was so much postmortem animal activity around the body, it’s hard to tell the exact cause of death,” DiSalvo said. “There is no evidence right now that there was ever any animal involvement predeath.”

He said investigators are still awaiting results from a toxicology report, which will identify whether drugs or alcohol were a factor. Sweet was found about 75 to 100 yards down a steep embankment from his home, DiSalvo said, but it’s unknown whether he fell down the hill before or after death.

There were also rumors that items in the home were in disarray as a result of an animal attack, but DiSalvo said the investigation didn’t lend itself to that scenario.

“The cabin doesn’t show any signs of a struggle,” he said. “There was some bedding that was removed from the bed [that] was on the floor. But it could be that he did that or his dog had something to do with that.”

Sweet had worked for the past five summers as a fly fishing guide for Pomeroy Sports in Aspen. His coworkers became concerned several days ago when he didn’t return phone calls.

Pomeroy Sports manager Gus Kadota said many people stopped by the store Monday to grieve. He said the day was difficult because of the uncertainty surrounding Sweet’s death. Sweet had told numerous stories about bears breaking into his cabin, he said.

Kadota said he knew Sweet was armed to protect himself from animal encounters, and he was relieved to know the cause of death was likely not from an animal attack.

“He was quite the outdoorsman – that was part of his M.O.,” Kadota said. “Here’s this fly fishing guide who lives on the backside of Aspen Mountain with no running water.”

Kadota said Sweet was a “private guy,” but he liked sharing his love of nature with visitors.

“He was able to share his appreciation of the woods in little day trips with people, and people were blown away by him because they wanted a piece of that,” Kadota said. “Over the last couple of years he got more and more repeat business from people. We’re definitely going to miss him.”

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]


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