Motion in Aspen CO case: County created ‘death trap’
DENVER – The Pitkin County government’s effort to have its commissioners, community development department and two building inspectors dismissed from a lawsuit is being challenged by an attorney who alleges the county “unlocked the door to the ‘death trap'” that killed a Denver family of four from carbon-monoxide poisoning.
Denver attorney William Hansen, on behalf of survivors of the Lofgren family, filed a 29-page argument last week in the U.S. District Court of Denver.
Hansen’s filing was in response to a county motion filed Jan. 7, which claims the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, the Pitkin County Development Department, former city building inspector Erik Peltonen and current county inspector Brian Pawl should not be liable for the four deaths, which occurred on either Nov. 27 or Nov. 28 of 2008, at a home on the outskirts of Aspen.
The county claims that neither its departments nor the inspectors were culpable in the deaths. The county also has contended that the plaintiffs’ civil-rights claim against the county, Pawl and Peltonen – they allegedly deprived the Lofgren family members of “their Constitutional right of life guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution” – holds no weight.
The suit, however, alleges that Pawl and Peltonen inspected the home in the summer of 2005, and signed off on the home’s snowmelt system, which was operated by a Munchkin boiler that leaked the noxious gas, “despite open and obvious violations of the Pitkin County Code and building regulations.”
Meanwhile, Hansen’s motion from last week argues that the county is liable for numerous infractions of the county code leading to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy for the home, located at 10 Popcorn Lane.
“The violations of the Pitkin County codes were legion; they were obvious; and they were deadly,” Hansen’s motion argues. “Yet somehow, the construction of the residence had passed inspections required by the Pitkin County codes, and a Certificate of Occupancy had been issued certifying that the residence was code-compliant and could be safely inhabited.”
The motion goes on to say that the county defendants’ “multiple reckless affirmative acts caused a ‘perfect storm’ creating not a ‘snake pit’ but, rather, a ‘death trap’ for the unwary [victims] as guests at the Lodge. The Public Defendants unlocked the door to the ‘death trap.'”
The suit was originally filed in state district court, but was transferred to federal court last fall.
The plaintiffs are Massachusetts resident Dr. Frederick Feuerbach, the father of Caroline Lofgren; Oregon resident Jean Rittenour, the mother of Parker Lofgren and grandmother of the two children; and Massachusetts resident Hildy Feuerbach, who is the sister of Caroline Lofgren and the representative of the deceased husband and wife’s estate.
At issue are the carbon-monoxide poisoning deaths of Caroline Lofgren, 42, her husband, Parker, 39, and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8. The family was staying at the home at 10 Popcorn Lane, about 31⁄2 miles east of Aspen. They had won a stay at the home, which did not have a carbon-monoxide detector at the time of their deaths, at an auction held at their school.
Other defendants in the suit include Basalt-based Integrity Construction Management Group and its project manager, John Wheeler; Carbondale-based Eagle Air Systems Inc.; Basalt-based Proguard Protection Services Inc.; Heat Transfer Products Inc. of Massachusetts; Marlin Brown, owner of Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating Co.; and Jonathan Thomas and Black Diamond Development Corp., which owned the house at the time the family died in it.
Both Pawl and Peltonen also were indicted by a Pitkin County grand jury on criminal charges last July. Chief Attorney Arnold Mordkin, however, dropped the misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment against Pawl and Peltonen because the statute of limitations had expired.
Peltonen, however, still faces four charges of criminally negligent homicide, along with Brown, who’s also a defendant in the lawsuit.
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