| SkyHiNews.com

As CDOT considers Steamboat Bustang route, Winter Park lobbies for a stop

A statewide initiative to expand multi-modal transportation could bring an interregional bus line to Grand County.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is working on the 2040 Statewide Transportation Plan and hopes to expand its Bustang routes, an interregional bus line that runs four routes on Interstate 25 from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and Interstate 70 from Denver to Glenwood Springs.

“We’re going through the process right now to identify three to four, maybe five more routes and we want to spread them over the whole state,” said Michael Timlin, bus operations manager for CDOT. 

One Bustang route that is a strong candidate for future planning would connect Denver to Steamboat Springs, cutting through Grand County.

However, Timlin said they are still discussing whether the route would utilize US Highway 40 through Winter Park or if it would run through Summit County via Highway 9.

“We want to do what’s best for the area,” said Timlin, who added that “Winter Park is an interesting place” CDOT would like to service.

Bob Wilson, communications manager for CDOT, noted that routing through Winter Park on US 40 would offer more opportunities for stops.

Winter Park’s transit manager Michael Koch agreed, highlighting the new transit center at Cooper Creek will have a dedicated bus lane for interregional transit, including Greyhound.

“After Kremmling, there’s no population density on Highway 9, really, so I’m arguing to stay on 40 to provide better service to rural residents,” he said. “If they stay on 40, they’ll target larger populations.”

He also believes routing through Winter Park would offer the best service for Bustang riders, as well as Grand County residents.

Koch noted that a Bustang route through Grand County would provide previously unavailable transit options to the Front Range, Steamboat Springs and the state as a whole. 

“The residents and visitors of Grand County have never really had public transit options, so this would just provide another option and it would provide access to other parts of the state that we don’t have access to,” he said.  

While conversations about the Bustang expansion are ongoing, Timlin said they hope to have the routes nailed down early next year and start running buses regularly in January 2021.

Video raises possibility police shot Rifle man in the back

A cell phone video appears to show the Aug. 5 fatal shooting of Allan George in Rifle by police and seems to indicate he was shot in the back as he was moving away from officers.

The footage was taken across the river from the bridge where George was stopped, then shot by Rifle Police, who were attempting to arrest George on charges of child exploitation.

Ten seconds of the video reviewed by the Post Independent appears to have been shared on SnapChat and filmed by a second mobile phone. The PI obtained the video through an anonymous source.

In the video, a person believed to be George — wearing a brightly colored shirt — is seen jogging away from a police car followed by at least one person dressed in dark colors. Two shots are heard in the video, and the person falls forward.

In the video, it appears the suspect’s hands are restrained behind his back but it is unclear whether he was holding anything.

George died shortly after the incident. The cause of death was two gunshot wounds “of the chest,” according to the coroner’s press release issued two days after the incident, which could mean he was shot from behind.

“The ‘of chest’ refers to the chest cavity and vital organs contained within,” Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire said. “It does not indicate the point of entry of any wounds from gunshots.”

Glassmire declined to comment on whether the entry wounds were in the chest or the back, and deferred to forensic investigators on whether there were handcuff marks on the wrists.

Two officers were involved in the shooting, and have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is being investigated by a Critical Incident Team comprised of Garfield County Sheriff’s Office detectives and other 9th District Attorney staff.

The video shows the Rifle Bridge over the Colorado River, but it is not possible to identify George or any other figures from the video alone. However, the cars shown within the video match images investigators shared in an effort to look for witnesses to the shooting.

One car was driving by the suspect and police vehicles on the bridge around the time of the gunshots.

The day after the incident, Garfield County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Walt Stowe, who is part of the 9th Judicial District’s Critical Incident Team investigating the shooting, released pictures of four cars.

Stowe sent out a press release with small, thumbnail-sized pictures of four cars that may have witnessed the incident, and asked anyone with information about the vehicles’ owners to contact investigators.

Those four images match frames from the cell phone video shared with the Post Independent.

Police were attempting to arrest George on an Eagle County warrant for child sexual exploitation, on charges that he possessed pornographic images of minors. After pulling George over, “things escalated,” Stowe said last week.

“He had a gun, and the Rifle Police Department responded initially, to my knowledge, according to protocol,” Stowe said.

When asked about the mobile phone video and what it depicted, Stowe said he had not seen it.

Speaking generally, Stowe did explain what officers are trained to do when a suspect has a gun.

“The real question when it comes to protocol is whether he still had the gun in his hand, at least to my mind,” Stowe said.

“If he still was carrying a gun, he still was a threat, not just to the officers but to the people passing by,” Stowe said. “I can only speak to that in generality, because I have not seen the video at this point.”

“The District Attorney will decide whether this warrants further investigation of the officers, or if they were within in their standard procedural protocol,” Stowe added.

“I think the investigation is close to being complete, and I’m anticipating they will be turning over the information soon to the District Attorney,” he said.

Rifle Police officers do not have body cams or record video in police vehicles, Rifle Police Chief Tommy Klein said. Officers have the ability to record audio of interactions, but Klein would not confirm whether there is audio of recording of the George shooting.

Klein said he has seen a video shot from the same angle near the boat ramp which identified the vehicles in the video the Post Independent has seen. He added the CIT is aware of the cell phone video.

District Attorney Jeff Cheney declined to comment on any piece of evidence, but said the CIT inspectors were being thorough.

“I can’t comment on any of the evidence, or anything that may remotely be a piece of evidence,” Cheney said.

He added, “We will definitely be informing the public when the investigation is concluded, and legal conclusions have been made.”

The Post Independent is not publishing the video because we were unable to obtain the original videographer’s permission to reproduce.

Colo. drivers urged to use caution amid rise in motorcycle deaths

The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol gathered Monday at the CDOT headquarters in Denver to remember the motorcyclists killed in 2018 and to help raise awareness about motorcycle safety.

Gov. Jared Polis issued a proclamation designating the day as Colorado Motorcyclist Memorial Day, hoping to inform the state of an increase in motorcycle deaths in recent years.

“Today, we speak for the ones who can’t be with us,” CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said in a news release. “If you’re in a car or on a motorcycle, we want everyone traveling on Colorado’s roads to be watchful and safe.”

In 2018, there were 103 motorcycle riders killed in Colorado. There have been 65 motorcyclist deaths this year compared with 60 at this time last year. According to CDOT, motorcycle fatalities increased 30% from 2012 to 2018, reaching a peak with 125 deaths in 2016.

CDOT is reminding drivers to check their blind spots, look twice before merging, use extra caution when turning left, never follow motorcyclists too closely and to eliminate distractions while driving.

Over the next few weeks, CDOT will begin a social media campaign urging drivers to be more careful around motorcyclists and will be posting safety messages on its digital message boards on roadways around the state.

CMC Steamboat will offer new nursing degree program

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Yampa Valley residents who want to pursue a nursing career will soon have a new, close-to-home option.

In January 2020, Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs will begin offering nursing degree programs. Students will have the opportunity to earn an associate of applied science or bachelor of science in nursing degree at the local campus.

Kathy Kiser-Miller, CMC Steamboat Springs vice president and campus dean, said the programs were added due to high interest in professional nursing education among local residents and across the college’s district.

“Demand in the community and college-wide has been more than we can accommodate,” Kiser-Miller said in a news release. “We have over 200 applications for nursing with only 40 slots available.”

For the spring semester, Steamboat will accept 20 student nurses and hire two faculty members to support the program, which is overseen by Susan Morelan, Ph.D., new college-wide dean of the School of Nursing, Health Sciences and Public Safety.

CMC’s nursing program is currently ranked third out of the state’s 23 nursing programs. The program is offered at CMC campuses in Breckenridge and Glenwood Springs, and now Steamboat.

“Our program is competitive and affordable,” Kiser-Miller added.

The associate of applied science degree in nursing qualifies graduates to apply for the National Council Licensure Examination. From there, nurses may enroll in CMC’s RN to BSN program, which provides graduates with an expanded knowledge base in nursing theory, research and leadership practice.

Applications for the program are available online at coloradomtn.edu/programs/nursing. The application deadline for the associate degree program is Oct. 15. BSN program applications are due Nov. 15.

In Steamboat, the associate degree will be offered live on campus. The bachelor’s degree will be offered online.

CMC Steamboat Springs will host three informational sessions about the new nursing program and its application process on Aug. 28, Sept. 11 and Oct. 2 in the campus library. Associate degree sessions will begin at 3:30 p.m. on those days, followed by bachelor’s degree sessions at 4:30 p.m.

Contact Betty Damask-Bembenek at 970-947-8257, 970-947-8251 or bbembenek@coloradomtn.edu.

Coroner determines cause of death for racer who collapsed during Steamboat Stinger

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An autopsy performed in Routt County on Monday determined the cause of death for a man who collapsed Saturday during the Steamboat Stinger mountain bike race.

Andrew Balika, 45, of Littleton suffered a “sudden cardiac death,” Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg confirmed Tuesday.

At around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters responded to a report of a man in need of CPR in a remote area of Emerald Mountain.

According to Routt County Undersheriff Doug Scherar, Balika had stopped by an aid station during the race near the intersection of the Beall and Ridge trails.

“He was talking to one of the race coordinators, and he just fell over,” Scherar said Saturday.

Race staff performed CPR until first responders arrived. Steamboat firefighters continued resuscitation efforts, but they were unsuccessful.

During the autopsy, Ryg found the man had blockage in his arteries, a genetic condition, which he said contributed to Balika’s sudden death.

“His dad had the same thing at his age,” Ryg explained, though Balika’s father is still alive.

Ryg said the man was otherwise in excellent physical shape.

The incident temporarily closed a portion of the 50-mile bike race course, according to Steamboat Fire Rescue officials.

Honey Stinger, the Steamboat-based company organizing the event, said in a social media post that Sunday’s running race would continue as scheduled. Before the race, participants and organizers shared a moment of silence in honor of Balika, according to company co-owner Rich Hager.

In the social media post, Honey Stinger expressed condolences to the man’s family and friends.

“First responders were on the scene immediately to assist in medical care, but unfortunately, were unable to revive the rider,” the company wrote on Facebook. “In the wake of this tragic incident, our entire team at Honey Stinger sends our most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the rider and to all who knew and rode with him.”

Bear breaks into Estes Park house, leaves through a wall “like the Kool-Aid Man”

DENVER — A black bear broke into a Colorado house over the weekend and left by breaking through a wall “like the Kool-Aid Man.”

Estes Park police say the break-in occurred Friday night and that the animal was likely attracted to trash.

A Facebook post by the police department said: “Upon officer’s arrival, said bear forcibly breached a hole in the wall like the ‘Kool-Aid Man’ and made its escape.”

The Denver Post reports no one was injured.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife said bears entered over 35 vehicles and nine residences in the Estes Park area in the 10 days before Aug. 3. Residents were encouraged to close and lock all doors and windows to homes and vehicles.

Colorado entrepreneur invents a backcountry self-rescue device for injured dogs

What would you do if you were miles out in the backcountry and your dog got injured and was unable to walk out?

This became more than a hypothetical question for Paul Hoskinson when he cut two tendons on the leg of his dog, Remi, during a ski descent near Independence Pass.

Fortunately, Hoskinson was able to empty out his pack and stuff Remi inside, if barely, to carry her out.

The story ends happily, as he and Remi both survived the experience, and Remi made a complete recovery.

But it got Hoskinson to search online for a better way to rescue an injured dog. And he found nothing.

Hoskinson, not unfamiliar with entrepreneurship, took it upon himself to design and market a solution to the problem he had faced.

And so, the Fido Pro Airlift was born. Hoskinson designed a “simple” hammock-type device that distributes the dog’s weight and makes carrying the dog comfortable for both dog and human, he said. Remi can attest to this but by all accounts is somewhat tired of being a test subject.

Hoskinson said his challenge was to get people to carry the Airlift on trips: It needed to be lightweight, minimal volume, built well and affordable.

The 8-ounce, $70 Airlift in its stuff sack is roughly the size of a Nalgene water bottle, but of course is easier to pack. Out of the stuff sack it could line the bottom of a pack. And it can carry 500 pounds of weight. (That’s one big doggy.)

The elegant design appears quite simple, but it took a few tries to perfect it.

“The design distributes weight well for the person and the dog and makes the shoulder straps narrow enough so they’re functioning shoulder straps,” Hoskinson said. “… At first, I couldn’t figure out how to keep the dog from collapsing on himself. Then, one day on a lazy morning it came to me that this is how it should be done.”

Hoskinson said there is another company manufacturing something similar, but, “They’re not much of a threat from a business standpoint. Their design is one I threw away.”

Carbondale veterinarian Ben Mackin was involved from a design standpoint, Hoskinson said, though Mackin played down his role. “Paul deserves all the credit,” he said.

“I see a lot of dogs with ski lacerations from backcountry and even cross country skiing accidents,” Mackin said. “Even the well-trained dogs can get spooked and run in front of a skier. Paul’s idea was great, having a safe, packable way to get an injured dog out and to treatment.”

While Hoskinson said there have been a couple of Airlift rescue stories to date, he doesn’t yet have permission to talk about them. But he will say, “Two or thee times a day on Instagram or Facebook someone comes on and says, ‘We should have had this last week.’”

Fido Pro employs Hoskinson as top dog, two marketing people and four shipping/customer service representatives. It also contracts out eight cut-and-sew employees at two Denver and Boulder manufacturing locations.

The Airlift, originally constructed in Carbondale, probably won’t be made much farther from Carbondale than that.

“I have no intention of leaving Colorado for the lion’s share of production,” Hoskinson said.

Sales are 97% online, Hoskinson said, though the Airlift is available locally at the Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone Mountain Sports. “We’ve been using social media as a conduit for marketing and advertising,” he said.

Hoskinson, the entrepreneur, currently makes his living from a building material company he started. But, he said, “Fido Pro is taking up enough of my time that it will be necessary to do this on a full-time basis.”

In fact, he said, “We’re looking at producing in Europe. We plan to set up a European operation in 2020.”

Fido Pro isn’t resting on the laurels of the current Airlift, Hoskinson said. He is working on “new designs to accommodate larger dogs,” namely a two-person carrying system. “Airlift will have a couple more designs out this year,” he said.

Also in the works are what Hoskinson calls protection products rather than rescue products. At this point, though, those designs are top secret.

In regards to being bought out by a company such as canine outdoor gear company Ruffwear, Hoskinson said with a wry smile, “Everything’s for sale. … Do I have an emotional attachment? Of course.” But the point is that he primarily wants the product available: It doesn’t have to be him that provides it.

Hoskinson said, “Fido Pro was born out of compassion for dogs and human beings. [His experience with Remi] was really traumatic for me. I can’t imagine leaving a dog out there wondering if they’re getting attacked by animals.

“I do truly feel that anyone who takes their dog hiking or skiing should have this,” Hoskinson said.

Aspen Skiing Co. raises minimum wage to $15 per hour

Aspen Skiing Co. has increased its pay rates for a second consecutive year and has maintained what company officials believe is a leadership role in the ski industry.

Skico boosted its pay for entry-level positions to $15 from $13.50 per hour in June during the hiring of new summer employees. The new minimum wage will carry over to ski season.

“Fifteen dollars an hour — it’s kind of unheard of,” said Caleb Sample, Skico director of talent acquisition. “In the industry, that’s going to make us much more appealing (than competitors). That’s the hope anyway.”

The pay hike has a “ripple effect” because it will increase the wages for second- and third-year employees as well as others up the line, Sample said. Raise the basement and it also raises the roof, Sample said. Skico also provided a cost-of-living increase to all salaried, full-time employees this year that was in excess of the rate of inflation.

Skico raised its minimum wage to $13.50 from $12 per hour last season. Following Aspen’s move, Vail Resorts raised its minimum wage at its U.S. resorts to $12.25 per hour last season, according to the Park Record newspaper. Vail hasn’t set the minimum wage for 2019-20.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a prepared statement that the pay hike reflects how the company values its workers.

“Our company is rooted in humanity and we feel our employees are what sets us apart,” Kaplan said. “We are committed to a sustainable employment strategy, enabling employees to prosper and excel, be that through industry-leading pay rates, career development, continued investment in employee housing, health care for seasonal and year-round workers or expansive wellness benefits.”

Sample said the increased pay was strategically timed and should help his team fill the 1,000 to 1,500 seasonal openings Skico typically has each season. He believes the pay hike will capture the attention of workers looking at options for winter and boost Skico’s already strong retention rate even higher.

No statistics are available on a state or regional basis for minimum wages in the ski industry. However, Sample said he believes Skico is 15 to 20% “ahead of the majority of the ski industry.”

Skico’s pay raise could affect the U.S. ski industry as a whole and spur other resort operators to raise wages, Sample said.

“I hope they’re going to follow suit,” he said.

The hike also could adjust the pay scale for businesses throughout Aspen and Snowmass Village.

The Colorado minimum wage is $11.10 per hour. However, a bill signed into law this year gives municipalities and counties the ability to set their own minimum wage as of Jan. 1, 2021.

Skico has posted all its winter job openings on a new employment website intended to speed the application process. The address is http://www.aspen snowmass.com/jobs.

It’s the earliest the job openings have been posted, according to Sample.

Jobs are available in mountain operations, ski school, food and beverage establishments and lodging. Skico’s website features sections on career paths, benefits and perks and Frequently Asked Questions. Topics covered range from employee housing, benefits, job duties and living in the Upper Roaring Fork Valley.

Sample said his team’s goal is to contact every job applicant this summer and fall to “create a better candidate experience.” He wants to ensure that every candidate knows where he or she stands and that those who are offered a job know what they’re getting into.

Skico’s first job fair for the season will be held Sept. 17 at Bump’s restaurant at the base of Buttermilk.

While increased pay will help with recruitment, affordable housing remains a key factor for Skico and other employers in the Roaring Fork Valley. Skico owns or rents about 600 beds in affordable-housing units. The demand always exceeds supply but Skico plans to build another affordable housing project in Willits Town Center to chip away at the shortage (See side bar). Skico officials have said that increases in pay alone cannot tackle the housing crisis. Employers must also provide the housing, according to Skico’s philosophy.

Littleton man dies during Steamboat Stinger race

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A man from Littleton died Saturday afternoon during the Steamboat Stinger bike race in a remote area on Emerald Mountain, according to authorities.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters responded to a 45-year-old man in need of CPR near the intersection of Beall and Ridge trails.

The man, whose name has not been released, stopped during the bike race and tried to rest on a bench by an aid station, according to Routt County undersheriff Doug Scherar.

“He was talking to one of the race coordinators, and he just fell over,” Scherar said.

Race staff performed CPR until Steamboat Fire Rescue arrived and continued resuscitation efforts. Rescue attempts were not successful, and the man was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Scherar.

Routt County coroner Rob Ryg conducted an initial evaluation but has not determined a cause of death. He said the man did not crash.

“It looks like some kind of medical event,” Ryg said.

The Steamboat Stinger bike race is an intense, 50-mile bike race through steep terrain on Emerald Mountain. Ryg said the man appeared to be in great physical shape.

“It is kind of a mystery,” he said of the man’s sudden death.

Ryg will conduct an autopsy early next week to determine an official cause of death.

Steamboat Fire Rescue medics said the incident temporarily closed a portion of Beall Trail, but all trails have since reopened.

Steamboat Springs Police Department officers and Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers also responded to the incident.

CDOT launches new teen safety campaign

While the number of young drivers involved in fatal crashes has fallen considerably over the past 20 years, there has been a spike in teen fatalities in the past two years, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The number of young drivers involved in fatal crashes has fallen by almost 50% in the past two decades, but the trend recently has started to shift. From 2005 to 2016, Colorado averaged 64 teen traffic fatalities per year. In 2017 and 2018, the average jumped to 86, a 34% increase.

Because of the numbers, CDOT is set to launch a new safety campaign to encourage teens to drive more safely and help raise awareness of Colorado’s Graduated Driver Licensing law.

“When teens receive their driver’s licenses, the first year of driving is the most dangerous,” CDOT executive director Shoshana Lew said in a news release. “But our (Graduated Driver Licensing) law has contributed to a near 50% reduction in traffic fatalities involving young drivers over the last 20 years, which is very good news. We must continue to educate teens … and enforce the law if we want to continue to see such positive results.”

The law prohibits new drivers from traveling with passengers younger than 21 for the first six months with their license. Then one passenger younger than 21 is allowed after six months until the end of the first year. The law also bans the use of cellphones for drivers younger than 18 and makes not wearing a seat belt a primary traffic offense.

CDOT kicked off the safety campaign Thursday in Denver, with a number of safety advocates and law enforcement officers in attendance. The campaign, which includes videos to educate youths on the law, will run on social media through the first week in September. The campaign is meant to target drivers ages 15 to 18.

“Motor vehicle crashes are not caused by involuntary or inevitable mistakes,” Drive Smart of the Rockies executive director Amy Nichols said in the release. “Teens are as powerful as they are vulnerable because most teen crashes involve voluntary choices. By partnering with CDOT and promoting the … awareness campaign, we hope to save lives by decreasing teen driver deaths.”

For teen driving tips and resources, visit CoTeenDriver.com.