Basalt police chief: Incident involving man with a gun was innocuous, could have been trouble
A man armed with a rifle thought he was helping when a fire alarm went off at a Basalt hotel late one night earlier this month, but the situation could have backfired and ended in tragedy, according to Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott.
The incident occurred at Element Hotel when the fire alarm went off at 3:39 a.m. on Oct. 10. A Basalt police officer responded and while en route was informed by an emergency dispatcher that a call came in from a person reporting there was a man with a rifle on the second floor of the hotel, Knott said.
That triggered mutual aid from deputies from Eagle and Pitkin counties. The law officers secured their own rifles and reported to the scene. They evacuated hotel guests who had congregated in the lobby, kept them protected and then started a sweep of the hotel floors.
“They got the people out of the hotel and went to find the threat,” Knott said.
They eventually declared the scene safe and allowed officials from the fire department to stop the wailing alarm.
Knott and other officers went to the hotel early the next morning in an effort to find the mystery man.
“The descriptions of the weapon were vastly different among the witnesses,” Knott said. There also were different descriptions of the man’s appearance and his clothing, so officers thought they were hitting a dead-end.
At that point, Lt. Aaron Munch noticed a man coming down to the lobby pushing a luggage cart that included a gun scabbard. Knott asked the man if he had been carrying a rifle the night before and was told that was his colleague, who would be down in the lobby shortly.
When the other man arrived, officers were able to piece together what happened the night before. Here’s his story as relayed through Knott: The two men from the firearms industry were in town for a promotional shoot for a local ranch. They legally possess numerous firearms and at least one of them claimed to have tactical training. They were staying in separate rooms, one on the second and one on the fourth floor.
When the fire alarm went off, the man on the fourth floor thought it was strange, given the hour in the morning. He grabbed an AR 15-style rifle, slung it over his shoulder and had it by his side as he left his room and went down to the second floor to converge with his colleague.
At some point he went down to the lobby and inquired about the alarm with the hotel clerk. Satisfied that nothing was awry, he returned to his room.
“He was thinking he was helping people by what he did,” Knott said. “In reality he was scaring them.”
There was “no mass hysteria” during the incident, according to Knott. Multiple witnesses confirmed the man had the weapon by his side and wasn’t threatening anyone.
Nevertheless, Knott said he couldn’t help but think of how the scenario could have unfolded if the man was still roaming the halls when the law officers made their sweep. Knott said he relayed his concerns to the man. The man was “very apologetic” and said he certainly would have laid down his arms had he encountered the police.
The man had a concealed weapon permit and carried a handgun with him as well. Knott said he noted that it might have made more sense for the man to investigate the situation with the concealed weapon rather than the rifle.
“He got the message,” Knott said.
There was no crime committed so no arrest or citation.
One mystery remains. “We have not been able to determine who pulled the fire alarm,” Knott said.
An alarm just off the lobby was pulled. A surveillance camera in the area wasn’t operational at the time.
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