Homeless Aspen couple in legal limbo | AspenTimes.com

Homeless Aspen couple in legal limbo

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

ASPEN It’s been a downhill slide for Jane Patterson and Michael O’Gara ever since the transient couple crashed a brown van on July 13.Their home of 10 years totaled, the two relocated to Glory Hole park in Aspen, where police responded to numerous calls about them drinking alcohol, urinating and trespassing. On Wednesday in Aspen Municipal Court, O’Gara, 61, pleaded guilty to those charges. Patterson, 62, meanwhile, has been admitted to an alcohol-rehabilitation clinic in Grand Junction. She also faces DUI charges connected to the van crash.The latest developments cast doubt on the chances of the two returning to life in a van. Valley Information and Assistance director Vince Savage said the couple paid numerous visits to Aspen Valley Hospital as it got colder late in the summer, prompting Savage to organize donors to buy a $500 1977 Dodge van in which to sleep. “That was an interim solution based on keeping them warm and dry,” Savage said. “Of course, it registered high on the opinion Richter scale in town.”Now, the two are separated, and no one appears to have answers about what to do. The donated van sits in a parking lot near the hospital; O’Gara has been in jail for nearly a month, and there is debate about whether O’Gara, Patterson, or both can live on their own. “Michael O’Gara is not exactly at the peak of health,” defense attorney John Van Ness said Wednesday at O’Gara’s hearing. “Days go by when he eats nothing. He is not thriving mentally.”But though Van Ness said the solution is getting O’Gara out of jail and back to the van with Patterson, O’Gara said he can’t live with Patterson and he wants to stay in jail. “[O’Gara] is incapacitated mentally and physically,” jail supervisor Billy Tomb told the court. “I don’t think he has the ability to take care of himself at this time.” Aspen Municipal Judge Brook Peterson said he does not think O’Gara and Patterson are threats to the community. He expressed concern about O’Gara leaving the jail and acknowledged that jail is not the proper place for him. “I’m in a real quandary,” Peterson said. “It’s not appropriate to allow [O’Gara] out into the streets. But there is little doubt in my mind that Mr. O’Gara and Ms. Patterson blew off every law in the city of Aspen while their van was incapacitated.”Last week in municipal court, Van Ness said Patterson was committed involuntarily to a treatment program. Now, it looks like she might return to Aspen. If so, the new van is still in her name and ready if she wants it. However, it’s an open question about whether the brown van will reappear as Aspen’s most recognizable homeless shelter, or whether O’Gara and Patterson will be institutionalized for good. “The professionals involved don’t always know what the proper solution is,” Savage said. “The clients may change their minds based on where their state of mind is. There are a lot factors. None of us have a crystal ball. We can’t tell what the future will hold.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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