Parents of 28-year-old who died last year sue state agency
November 29, 2011
The parents of George Aldrich Jr. – a 28-year-old Rhode Island native whose disappearance a year ago sparked a massive search across the Aspen area and the Roaring Fork Valley – are claiming that the Colorado Department of Transportation was responsible for their son’s death.
Their attorney, Brian K. Stutheit, of Centennial, filed a lawsuit against CDOT on Saturday. Sunday marked the first anniversary of the last time friends saw Aldrich alive. His body was discovered Dec. 13 in a spot almost directly below the Maroon Creek Bridge west of Aspen.
Police believe Aldrich somehow fell through a small gap between the new bridge, completed in 2008, and the older one built in the late 19th century, while walking home after a night of drinking with friends in downtown Aspen. The state owns and maintains the bridges.
Police have said they believe Aldrich took a bus from Rubey Park in Aspen and exited the bus in confusion, perhaps at the Truscott Place stop on state Highway 82. From there, he might have walked until meeting his fate at the bridge. The drop from the bridges to the creekbed below is an estimated 90 to 100 feet.
“[CDOT] was negligent in constructing the new bridge so that it was higher than the old bridge, making the barriers between the bridges ineffective,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant was also negligent in constructing a low barrier on the new bridge.”
The lawsuit also says that the state agency is not immune from liability.
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“Defendant, by routine inspections, was aware or should have been aware that a fence along the edge of the old bridge in the area of the fall had sagged, but did not repair the fence,” the lawsuit states. “In addition, defendant failed to post visible warnings when the new bridge opened that it also closed the old bridge to traffic and pedestrians, and that crossing between the bridges was unsafe by virtue of the gap.
“In these omissions to maintain the Maroon Creek Bridge, defendant was negligent.”
The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages “for noneconomic loss including grief, loss of companionship and emotional distress.”
Stutheit was not available for comment Monday afternoon. CDOT spokeswoman Nancy Shanks said her agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Aldrich’s disappearance led to a widespread search involving dozens of area law enforcement officials and volunteers who combed the Highway 82 corridor between Carbondale and Aspen as well as the Snowmass area. His father and other family members flew to Aspen and monitored search efforts, spoke with local and national media and posted rewards for information leading to his whereabouts.
His body was found on the afternoon of Dec. 13 by three off-duty members of Aspen Mountain Rescue. The next day, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office released a statement that Aldrich had died from an accidental fall from the bridge.
Results of the coroner’s toxicology report said THC and alcohol were in his system, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.220 percent, nearly three times the legal driving limit. His family has disputed that report.
A few months after the accident, CDOT embarked on a project to install a steel net in the gap between the two bridges.