Rage against bear killing leads to arson plea
A Pitkin County man admitted Wednesday to taking extreme measures when he retaliated against a hunter who legally killed a bear on a next-door ranch last fall.
Thomas Andersen, 69, pleaded guilty to felony attempted arson and misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Pitkin County District Court on Wednesday in exchange for a plea deal. The terms of the deal call for the felony conviction to be wiped from Andersen’s record after two years provided he is not charged with another crime during that time.
Andersen is scheduled to be sentenced in June, when he could receive time in the Pitkin County Jail or probation. He did not answer his phone or respond to a text message sent Wednesday seeking comment.
Andersen, who lives on Lower Brush Creek Road near Snowmass Village in unincorporated Pitkin County, confronted the hunter the evening of Sept. 7 after witnessing the bear killing on the Brush Creek Ranch next door to his home, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report. The hunter told sheriff’s deputies that Andersen was “in a rage” and began screaming at him, his two young sons and the ranch caretaker despite the fact that the hunter had a valid bear-hunting permit and permission to hunt on the property. Andersen called the boys — who were 5 and 7 years old at the time — “sons of bitches” and “little bastards” and told them their father was a “murderer” and a “dumbf—,” the report states.
Deputies were called back to the ranch later that night after the hunter reported finding gasoline poured on the ranch driveway, along with a gas can nozzle and a piece of brown paper bag. A deputy asked Andersen at that time if he poured the gas on the driveway in retaliation for the bear killing, and Andersen said, “Yeah, but I didn’t light the fire,” according to the report.
Andersen’s son told the Times in September that his father is a nature-lover, had been watching the bears all summer and was upset to witness the killing. He also said his father spilled the gas while carrying a heavy gas can and had no intention of lighting a fire.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutor Don Nottingham agreed to drop misdemeanor charges of interference with a hunter and telephone harassment. The telephone harassment charge was filed March 28 after Andersen allegedly called the hunter on March 22 or 23, according to court records.
Kurtis Tesch, Aspen area wildlife officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, urged prosecutors to file the interference with hunting charge against Andersen because the hunter was within his rights to kill the bear. On Wednesday, Tesch said Andersen’s actions were out of bounds.
“For one thing, to go after the kids, who are innocent bystanders,” he said. “Then to go back and plan to set the (driveway) on fire. It’s pretty egregious, if you ask me.”
A defense attorney for the Glenwood Springs man accused of erratically firing a weapon at police officers and his roommates last summer argued his client is being interrogated without legal counsel by his side.