Snowmass bear killing prompts state investigation after neighbor confronts hunter |

Snowmass bear killing prompts state investigation after neighbor confronts hunter

A mama bear and her cub pose for a photo on Shady Lane in Aspen on August 30, 2017.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer is investigating the shooting of a bear and its unusual aftermath a week ago on a private ranch near Snowmass Village, officials said Friday.

The focus of the investigation, however, was not exactly clear because Kurtis Tesch, CPW’s Roaring Fork Valley wildlife manager, said the bear was killed legally and the hunter doesn’t appear to have done anything wrong.

“Hunters have every right to be out there like everyone else,” he said Friday. “If what they’re doing is right, there’s no reason for anyone … to go off on them.”

Tesch declined to specify the nature of his investigation, saying he still needed to visit the scene and interview the parties involved.

As it stood Friday, 68-year-old Thomas Andersen, a neighbor of the ranch, was facing charges of felony arson for allegedly trying to retaliate against the hunter and misdemeanor disorderly conduct for allegedly yelling and cursing at a kindergartner and a second-grader who were present at the ranch, according to a Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office report and officials.

Andersen’s son, however, told The Aspen Times on Friday his father did nothing wrong and said his dad was merely watching out for his mother’s health. Loud bangs, like those from the muzzle loader used, cause her heart to race, he said.

“He got so mad about it because he’s trying to protect my mom’s heart condition,” Michael Andersen said. “God forbid my mom has a heart attack.”

Thomas Andersen declined to comment on the record Friday, while his Denver-based lawyer did not return a phone message seeking comment.

The incident occurred Sept. 7 at Brush Creek Ranch — owned by the Droste family — off Lower Brush Creek Road in unincorporated Pitkin County. Emergency dispatchers received a call about 7:50 p.m. from a person alleging that more than one bear, including cubs, were being illegally hunted and killed.

A ranch caretaker told a deputy he had given his friend permission to hunt for bears on the property. The friend admitted to killing the bear, and another deputy was able to confirm with CPW that the man had a valid permit to hunt a bear and that the time, day and location were legal, the report states.

But after the killing, the hunter told deputies that Thomas Andersen came over to the property “in a rage” and began screaming at him, his two sons and the ranch caretaker, according to the report by Deputy Michael Buglione.

Andersen told the boys their father “is a murderer” and a “dumb f—,” and called the boys “sons of bitches” and “little bastards,” the hunter told deputies, according to the report.

The man’s sons are ages 5 and 7, Buglione said. Andersen’s “rage lasted several minutes,” the report states.

Buglione and another deputy went to Andersen’s home and told him the bear was killed legally.

“At that point, Andersen went into a rage that seemed to have lasted two minutes or longer,” Buglione wrote in his report. “He was screaming loud, his face was red and at times spit was coming out of his mouth. Andersen would not let me get a word in.”

Andersen said he and his wife were watching the bears and saw the shooting, Buglione said. But Buglione eventually left the property after Andersen allegedly made derogatory statements about Italians, saying he’d return when Andersen was calmer, according to the report.

Both the hunter and the caretaker said they didn’t want to pursue charges at the time.

But later that night, about 11:05 p.m., the situation took a darker turn when Buglione received another call from the hunter, according to his report. He said he’d found what appeared to be gasoline poured on the ranch driveway, along with a red plastic gas can nozzle and pieces of a brown paper bag.

“I honestly believe that when we pulled up to the driveway he ran away and that he was in the act or process of lighting the fire,” the hunter wrote in a statement, according to an arrest warrant filed in Pitkin County District Court.

Buglione arrived and noticed a strong smell of gas just outside the ranch gate and a 6-foot-by-3-foot outline of fluid that had soaked into the gravel and dirt driveway, along with the nozzle and paper, according to his report. One of the papers appeared to have the name of Thomas Andersen’s wife written on it, the report states.

The deputy again approached Andersen’s front door and noticed a gas can without a nozzle, his report states. He knocked on the door and Andersen came out, according to the report.

“I asked Andersen about the gas, nozzle and paper and he said, ‘At least I didn’t start the fire,’” Buglione wrote in his report. “I asked Andersen if he poured gas on the driveway and left the nozzle and paper there in retaliation to (the hunter) legally shooting a bear and Andersen’s reply was, ‘Yeah, but I didn’t light the fire.’”

Buglione did not arrest Andersen immediately because he needed to research the applicable charges in the case, the report states. He said Friday that it took some back and forth with the District Attorney’s Office before a District Judge signed the arrest warrant Thursday.

Buglione said Friday that the shooting happened “several hundred yards” from Brush Creek Road, the hunter shot away from the road and that he didn’t feel the situation was dangerous.

It also was not clear what Andersen allegedly might have been trying to set afire, Buglione said. The gas spill was not near a structure, though it possibly could have ignited grass or brush, he said. Buglione said he did not recover an incendiary device.

“I did not feel that Andersen was in any danger at the any time,” Buglione said. “I think it was total retaliation for the bear hunter, based on his statements.”

Michael Andersen, who was not present at the home during the incident, said in a phone interview from Miami that his father had asked the caretaker the day before to stop shooting on the property because of his mother’s heart condition.

“(Shooting at the property) seems like a malicious act,” he said. “You’re messing with someone’s health.”

He also said the gasoline was on the Andersen property and was the result of his father carrying a gas can and accidentally spilling it. The family has four-wheelers and other motorized vehicles on the property, he said.

“My dad is an older man and the 5-gallon jugs are heavy,” Michael Andersen said.

Asked if his father was attempting to light a fire, he said, “No way. That’s not possible at all.”

He denied that his father cursed at the young children or admitted attempting to commit arson to Buglione. Also, the family has been watching two bears — one of which was shot Friday — all summer and his father is a fan of wildlife.

“He’s a big animal lover,” Michael Andersen said. “I really do feel he’s been falsely accused.”

Tesch, the valley’s wildlife manager, said it is legal to hunt 50 feet from the center of any road in Colorado, provided the hunter has permission to be on the land. In addition, a bear can be killed from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset, he said.

Asked what he thought was unusual about the situation, Tesch concentrated on Thomas Andersen’s behavior.

“As far as hunting, nothing,” he said. “Mr. Andersen … the way he handled the situation is kind of unusual.

“There was no reason for him to go on that property and yell at (the hunter). It was legal.”