U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez.

U.S. Army/Courtesy

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez.

Police seek key witness in downtown altercation

Lopez's death still under investigation

— Steamboat Springs police are searching for what Capt. Joel Rae called a "a key witness" in the ongoing investigation into the death of Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez.

Lopez died Monday of severe head trauma at a Denver hospital. His injuries stemmed from a fight just after midnight Jan. 2 at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue after he and two friends argued with two unidentified men at The Tap House about song choices on the jukebox.

Rae said the key witness, described as a white man wearing a red baseball cap, walked between the two groups of people on the sidewalk of Lincoln Avenue, heading from The Tap House toward Seventh Street at about 12:10 a.m. Jan. 2.

"We really want to encourage this individual to call us and let us know what he observed," Rae said Thursday.

The Steamboat Springs Police Department actively is investigating Lopez's death, and the case has not been turned over to the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office yet, Rae said. The department's three investigators are working full time on the case, along with Capts. Rae and Bob DelValle, two investigators from the DA's Office and Sgt. Gerard Geis.

Department investigators con-tinue to gather information to piece together exactly what happened the night of the fight, and Rae said witnesses have been contacting the police department this week. He declined to say how many people have come forward, but he continued to urge people to call the police if they have any information.

"It is crucial to get absolutely everything we can. That's what an investigation is, is fact-finding," Rae said. "This is a serious crime, and we know there's more people that witnessed at least a portion of this, especially inside the Tap House."

Witnesses are asked to call the Steamboat Springs Police Department at 879-4344 or CrimeStoppers at 879-6226.

Lopez, 37, a soldier from the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, was vacationing in Steamboat Springs last week with his son and friends Timothy and Wesley Mottlau. The Mottlaus originally are from Steamboat Springs. Timothy Mottlau is in the Navy, and Wesley Mottlau is in the Army. They now live in Norfolk, Va., and Fayetteville, N.C., respectively.

The two suspects in the case argued with Lopez and the Mottlaus at The Tap House, and the altercation turned physical after all five men left the bar. Police found Lopez unconscious in the crosswalk across Seventh Street on the south side of Lincoln Avenue when they responded to multiple 911 calls at about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 2.

Lopez was transported to Yampa Valley Medical Center via ambulance and later was airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center, where he died at 4:16 a.m. Monday. The Mottlaus were treated for minor injuries at YVMC.

Police have declined to identify the two suspects in the case or release any information about them except that they are not from the Steamboat area and have returned home and hired lawyers. They were not arrested, and charges have not been filed in connection with the incident.

The charges the two may face could range from second-degree murder on the high end, to second-degree assault on the low end, Rae said.

Preliminary autopsy results from the Arapahoe County coroner's office showed Lopez died of severe head injuries but that the most serious blow he took was from falling backward and hitting his head on the pavement, not from his alleged assailants.

Lopez's only injuries ap-peared to be to his head, Dobersen said, adding that he did not find evidence that Lopez had been punched or kicked elsewhere.

Lopez, a recipient of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, had tours including Fort Bragg; Fort Campbell, Ky.; South Korea; Gainesville, Fla.; Iraq; and Afghanistan.

Before joining the Special Forces, Lopez served as a platoon sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division as an army recruiter and a scout-sniper.

The family has not yet finalized funeral plans, Rae said. Fort Bragg will hold a soldiers-only memorial service for Lopez on Jan. 21.

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