Felony charge to be dismissed, but Fryingpan road rage remains
A surveyor crew hired by the U.S. Forest Service this summer determined that a disputed road in the Fryingpan Valley is a public road, an official said Tuesday.
However, the situation along Miller Creek Road, located above Ruedi Reservoir, appears far from settled.
“In our opinion that is a public road,” said Kevin Warner, acting district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, citing data gathered by the survey crew this summer. In fact, Miller Creek Road doesn’t even go through property owned by Glen Bear and his son, Russell Bear, who in the past have blocked the road and attempted to assert ownership over it, Warner said.
Not true, said Russell Bear’s attorney.
“They’re just wrong,” said John Van Ness. “I’m not aware of that conclusion, and I don’t think the Bears are either.”
Meanwhile, a felony menacing charge filed against Russell Bear in October 2015 after he allegedly fired a shot from a revolver at a group of men allegedly removing trees near his property will be dismissed later this month, said Deputy District Attorney Sarah Oszczakiewicz.
“At this time, we do not feel there’s sufficient evidence to prove (felony menacing) beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. Oszczakiewicz said she plans to file a motion to dismiss the charge Dec. 22.
The dispute over Miller Creek Road gradually escalated in the late summer and early fall of 2015, after Glen Bear reported that a gate he’d installed on the road had been stolen. Russell Bear reported trespassers on the Bear property in September.
But deputies from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office then told Russell Bear they wouldn’t respond to the trespassing report because it wasn’t clear whether the Bears or the Forest Service owned Miller Creek Road. Russell Bear allegedly fired the shot that led to the felony menacing charge in October.
Van Ness has said Russell Bear never shot at anyone and that the men on his property were using a front-end loader to destroy a spring the Bears used for water. On Tuesday, Van Ness said it will cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to restore the spring, and that his clients have no water in the meantime.
“Apparently, they’re going to have to put up with people doing whatever they want on their property,” Van Ness said. “It’s a bad scene. They can’t live without water.”
Oszczakiewicz said there’s no clear evidence which direction the shot was fired. Further, the alleged destruction of the spring means Russell Bear may have thought he was defending his property, she said. For those reasons, she said she plans to dismiss the charge.
So, while the criminal case appears to be moot, the civil dispute over the road appears no closer to a settlement than it was last fall.
Warner said Tuesday the survey crew in June had to go around blockages in the road that made their job more difficult. After the Forest Service received the results from the survey crew indicating that Miller Creek Road was a public road, the agency forwarded those findings to the Bears and other area landowners.
“We requested to Mr. Bear to remove the (road blockages) located on other people’s private property,” Warner said. “Initially he did, then he put up more (blockages) … in close proximity to where they were before.”
The road remains blocked today, he said.
Van Ness said he knows of no blockages that have been put up recently.
Warner also said another landowner in the area also has issues with the Forest Service claiming Miller Creek Road is public. That person doesn’t necessarily have a problem with public access, but doesn’t like the way the Forest Service came to the conclusion that the road is public, he said.
About the only thing Warner and Van Ness agreed to on Tuesday was that a solution to the problem doesn’t appear easy.
“We have some work ahead of us,” Warner said.
Said Van Ness, “We’ve got a long way to go.”
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