Pitkin County investigators find no sign of foul play in woman’s death in midvalley
Investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office suspect that a woman found dead in the midvalley on May 23 died from exposure to the weather.
Claudia Ruiz, 44, of Silt, was discovered by a rancher in a remote part of the Crown — in the high ground west of Emma. The rancher, who was tending his cattle, found her naked near a stock pond.
“There’s nothing that suggests to us that there was foul play involved,” Pitkin County Undersheriff Ron Ryan said on Friday.
An autopsy concluded that Ruiz was not the victim of sexual assault, Ryan said.
“We’ve also eliminated any other insults or trauma to the body,” he said.
That rules out any blows to the body or any injuries from a defensive posture, according to Ryan.
Ruiz was last spotted by her daughter on May 17, when she boarded a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus in Glenwood Springs. Surveillance cameras from the bus showed that Ruiz exited at Willits.
The family, with members of their church, mounted an extensive search in the El Jebel area the week of May 18. They posted fliers in visible places and walked paths. Family members said at the time they were especially concerned because Ruiz didn’t have medication she needed for a mental condition.
The rancher found Ruiz when he was delivering salt blocks to his cattle on a federal grazing allotment on the Crown. Ruiz was found roughly a quarter-mile from the summit of Nancy’s Path, a relatively obscure hiking and horseback route on the north ridge of the Crown. The site was also about a quarter-mile from a rough Jeep trail that branches off one of the main accesses on the south side of the Crown.
Ryan said four witnesses provided information that place a woman believed to be Ruiz between the Willits bus stop and the base of the Crown during the week she was missing. Three accounts provided information on specific locations at precise times, he said. The information placed Ruiz “alone, on foot,” Ryan said.
The incident piqued the public’s interest because of odd circumstances, such as where Ruiz ended up and the access to the site.
The Nancy’s Path trailhead is located at the base of the Crown about two miles from the Willits bus stop. There is no indication it exists from public roads. To gain entry to the trailhead, a person must travel on a long ranch driveway. From the trailhead, the path zigzags steeply up from the valley floor onto the Crown.
Ruiz was listed in the fliers about her disappearance as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and about 180 pounds. She was wearing sandals when she disappeared.
Ryan said there is no evidence that Ruiz was on the south side of the Crown or entered the high country via a vehicle. One main vehicular access to the Crown is a high-clearance, two-wheel-drive route accessed from where West Sopris Creek Road turns into Prince Creek Road. That is several miles via road from the Willits bus stop.
No ruling has been made yet on Ruiz’s cause of death. Ryan said the Coroner’s Office and investigators are waiting for results of a toxicology report, which will determine what was going on with her body metabolically and will show if there was a presence of drugs or alcohol. They also are waiting on results of a microscopic exam, a more detailed part of an autopsy.
Though no final conclusion has been reached, the indication about the cause of death is hypothermia or hyperthermia, according to Ryan. Hypothermia occurs when a body’s core temperature falls below the level required for normal functions. Hyperthermia is elevated body temperature.
Ryan said the Sheriff’s Office didn’t discuss the Ruiz death in detail earlier because it needed to do a thorough investigation.
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Judge Mark Thompson, who presided over courts in Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties, will not resume his duties as a judge upon his eventual return from planned time off. He has been charged with a single count of felony menacing.