Hiker dies in fall at Hanging Lake | AspenTimes.com
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Hiker dies in fall at Hanging Lake

A young jazz guitar player who hoped to make Colorado his home died Sunday after falling 65 feet from a cliff near Hanging Lake.

Justin Lee Stewart, 23, formerly of Cape Cod, Mass., apparently died instantly from traumatic injuries suffered in the fall, according to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department report.

An autopsy was conducted Monday at Community Hospital in Grand Junction, but the Garfield County Coroner’s Office did not release the results.



Stewart had gone hiking alone Sunday afternoon, but a dozen other hikers on the popular trail either saw him fall or heard his screams at 5:30 p.m.

Just before his fall, he was seen atop the rock cliff where a series of steep steps, protected by a guardrail, lead hikers up the last pitch to the Hanging Lake boardwalk.




Justin Scharer, of Steamboat Springs, was sitting about 10 feet away when he heard a scream and saw Stewart fall over the edge of the rock cliff. Scharer and other hikers rushed down to where Stewart lay.

“He was dead as far as I could tell,” Scharer reported later.

Jessica Nuncio, of Littleton, saw Stewart in a small area where the railing separates. She said he was holding onto a shrub. Then she heard something snap and saw Stewart fall.

When other hikers with cell phones couldn’t get a connection, Scharer and Garrett Davidson, of Glenwood Springs, ran down the mile-long trail to call for help.

Meanwhile, Dr. Stephen and Judy Axthelm, of Grand Junction, and Ricky King, of Oxford, Miss., stayed with Stewart’s body until authorities arrived.

Dr. Axthelm, a surgeon, reported that he could not find a pulse.

A four-man crew from the Glenwood Springs Department of Emergency Services and nine volunteers with Garfield Search and Rescue responded. They carried a litter up the trail, retrieved Stewart’s 150-pound body and carried it back down to the trailhead.

When they returned at 9:50 p.m., Deputy Sheriff Derek Stephens found Daniel Villemaire of No Name, Stewart’s uncle, in the trailhead parking lot.

Villemaire had loaned Stewart his car and suggested he hike to Hanging Lake, but warned him to be careful since he was hiking alone.

A former Marine, Stewart had come to Colorado three weeks ago from Cape Cod, and was staying with Villemaire and working with him on a house in Aspen Glen as a landscaper and laborer.

“It was the first time in his life to be out West and he was overwhelmed by it,” Villemaire said. “He’s been working out, learning kayaking and going out hiking, just getting into the Colorado thing. He admired the lifestyle.”

Stewart composed and played jazz music on his guitar, and had been a part of the Cape Cod music scene. But he wanted to make a life for himself in the West, his uncle said.

“He was a very intelligent, good-looking guy that everybody liked,” he said.

Villemaire said Stewart was a “clean-living person,” but Deputy Coroner Justin Lateer found what appeared to be a marijuana pipe in Stewart’s fanny pack, according to Deputy Stephens.


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