Man found dead at arson scene still unidentified | AspenTimes.com

Man found dead at arson scene still unidentified

Janet Urquhart

The man found dead early this morning in conjunction with the attempted arson of a local senior housing project has not yet been publicly identified by police.

The 69-year-old man, a resident at Aspen Country Inn, was found dead after intentionally set fires forced residents to evacuate the complex.

Local police and fire officials, along with an agent from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, have spent much of the day investigating the arson scene, but no details about the case or the deceased man will be released until Tuesday, Aspen Police Detective Jim Crowley said this afternoon.

Authorities have declined to comment on the nature of the victim’s death or on whether it occurred as a result of fire, but several blazes in both buildings that comprise the Aspen Country Inn were clearly arson, according to Crowley.

The fires started at multiple points and it appears an accelerant was used to help fuel the blazes, he said.

The detective declined to comment on whether the dead man is a suspect in the crime.

Most of the 40 units at Aspen Country Inn were unaffected by the fire and residents are expected to be allowed back into their units this afternoon, Crowley said.

There was fire damage in a basement storage unit in the west building, one apartment in the east building and in a common lobby area and an office in the east building, he said. The blazes triggered the buildings’ sprinkler system. The fire department turned off gas to the buildings, Crowley said.

Fire alarms in the complex, located across Highway 82 from the Maroon Creek Club just downvalley from the Maroon Creek bridge, went off shortly after 3:30 a.m.

“That alarm would wake the dead,” one resident said.

Aspen Country Inn, a former motel, consists of two buildings that were converted to rental housing for senior citizens in 1999. It is owned by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and most of the residents there are seniors and retirees.

They found themselves standing out in the cold in pajamas and bathrobes early this morning. About 30 minutes after the alarms sounded, a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus arrived, giving them a heated place to sit.

Residents were eventually allowed back into their units to get medications; most also took the opportunity to change into street clothes and jackets. They were brought to the former Aspen Youth Center in town shortly after 6 a.m., where the Red Cross provided them with food and coffee.

Helen Roberts, one of the complex’s younger, working residents, said she spotted cushions ablaze on the sofas in the lobby and another fire in the manager’s office as she exited the east building.

“The sprinklers were activated and put the sofas out as I was passing,” she said. “It was definitely purposefully set.”

“I laid there until the firemen came. Then I got dressed,” said Bill Leonard, a three-year resident of Aspen Country Inn. “The hall was heavy with smoke when I left.”

“We were all asleep and all of a sudden the fire alarm went off,” said Ruth McIntyre, who moved into the complex when it opened in September 1999. “We all opened our doors and were saying, ‘What should we do?’

“I called 911 and apparently a lot of other people did, too,” she said. “The operator said, ‘Get out of the building.’ “

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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