Highlands chairlift pusher released from custody of state psych hospital
A former Aspen resident who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity after throwing a man off an Aspen Highlands chairlift in 2016 was unconditionally released Monday from the custody of the state psychiatric hospital.
Thomas Proesel, 36, “no longer suffers from an impaired mental condition and has no abnormal mental conditions which would be likely to cause him to be dangerous to either himself or to others or to the community in the reasonably foreseeable future,” according to a report from a Colorado forensic psychiatrist quoted in Pitkin County District Court records.
“Further, (Proesel) is capable of distinguishing right from wrong and has substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law,” according to an unconditional release order from the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo filed in Pitkin County.
The victim in the case — an Aspen photographer — told the District Attorney’s Office he was OK with the release, though “he would like it if the defendant was not allowed at any Colorado ski resorts,” said prosecutor Don Nottingham. The release, however, is unconditional, so that stipulation was not part of Proesel’s final order.
Nottingham did not object to the release, and District Judge Chris Seldin accepted and granted the release order Monday.
“Mr. Proesel, good luck,” Seldin said.
Proesel, who had been allowed to live on his own in Pueblo since February 2020, will return to the Chicago area where his family resides, said Bill Martinez, director of Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health.
Proesel was riding the Loge Peak Lift at Aspen Highlands the morning of Jan. 17, 2016, and seated next to the photographer when he suddenly threw the man off the chair near the top of the lift. The photographer fell 20 to 25 feet, but landed in a pocket of deep snow thanks to a storm that dropped 5 to 6 inches of powder the night before, and was not injured.
The reason Proesel, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, threw the man off the chair was never clear, though he may have misinterpreted an innocuous remark the photographer made.
Seldin found probable cause to charge Proesel with attempted first-degree assault but also found him not guilty by reason of insanity and committed him indefinitely to the state psychiatric hospital in Pueblo in July 2016.
After he was released from the state hospital last year, Proesel lived by himself in Pueblo, got a job, was closely monitored and took anti-psychotic medication. He continues to receive injections of the medication, Martinez said Monday.
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