Relatives’ attorney urges judge to not drop Aspen CO case
October 15, 2011
ASPEN – An attorney for surviving relatives of the family of four killed by carbon-monoxide poisoning near Aspen has urged a judge to not dismiss criminal charges against a former building inspector linked to the deaths.
Denver attorney William Hansen, who represents three of the relatives of the deceased family members in a related civil matter, said the immunity argument posed by Basalt resident Erik Peltonen’s attorney falls flat and the criminal case against Peltonen should play out in court.
“Whether Defendant Peltonen is guilty of the crimes with which he is charged should be decided on the merits by a jury,” Hansen wrote in Thursday’s brief. “Building code should be adequately enforced at some level to protect the public, including victims such as the Lofgren Family, especially in such egregious cases as are to be claimed to exist here.”
Hansen’s brief comes as Peltonen, 69, of Basalt is scheduled to stand jury trial in December in Pitkin County District Court on four counts of criminally negligent homicide.
But over the last six weeks, Peltonen has received an outpouring of support via legal filings. They’ve come not only from Peltonen’s Denver lawyer Abraham Hutt, but the attorney’s offices for Pitkin County and the city of Aspen, as well as the International Code Council and the Colorado Municipal League.
They have all lobbied District Judge James Boyd to drop the charges. Their reasoning: Because Peltonen was working for the government when he issued a certificate of occupancy for the house in which the Denver family died, he is shielded from criminal prosecution.
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The Peltonen defense has also maintained that his grand jury indictment was unconstitutional, partly because the statute that he was charged with violating – criminally negligent homicide – contains vague language and did not give him fair warning that he could be prosecuted “for any alleged omission or failure” to carry out his job as a building inspector.
The house, located at 10 Popcorn Lane, about four miles east of Aspen, was given a certificate of occupancy by Peltonen, who was working on the county’s behalf in 2007 when he issued the approval and signed off on the home’s snowmelt system, including a Munchkin boiler that leaked the noxious gas.
Prosecutors say the deaths of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their two children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, occurred Nov. 29, 2008. The home did not have a carbon-monoxide detector at the time.
Meanwhile, Hansen’s brief contends the ongoing motions in Peltonen’s case lack focus about the issue at hand.
“What seems lost in this motion practice is that four people died in Pitkin County due to numerous violations of Pitkin County’s building code,” he wrote. “There was a gas-fueled appliance without properly installed venting and there was no carbon monoxide detector in the residence as required by code. … Despite these numerous code violations, the residence somehow passed inspections and a Certificate of Occupancy was issued falsely certifying by the County’s Chief Building Official that the home was constructed in compliance with all Pitkin County codes.”
Hansen represents 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.
In a separate filing made Thursday, Hansen wrote that the relatives have “made it their mission, as a legacy to the Lofgren Family, to prevent a recurrence of such deaths from carbon monoxide.”
Hansen also wrote that while the three relatives also have a pending lawsuit against both Pitkin County and Aspen governments, as well as a number of contractors, in federal court connected to the deaths, they are not motivated by monetary compensation.
“Instead, the victims have other goals that transcend their interests in the civil and criminal proceedings, but directly implicate the enactment and enforcement of laws related to carbon monoxide poisoning,” Hansen wrote, noting several state bills have been passed requiring carbon monoxide alarms in the wake of the Lofgren family deaths.
Glenwood Springs subcontractor Marlin Brown, a second defendant charged with the same offenses as Peltonen, is scheduled to stand trial in November in Pitkin County District Court.