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Moffat County to sign natural gas pipeline resolution at special Tuesday meeting

The Moffat County Board of County Commissioners will show its support for a major natural gas pipeline stretching from Colorado to Oregon’s coast.

Commissioners are calling a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to sign a resolution declaring Moffat County wants “an active role” in helping state agencies and Native American tribes in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado bring natural gas to the west coast for shipment abroad.

Tuesday’s agenda is available below.

Hometown Hero: Neil Folks wandering elder with mission of helping Craig

For this week's Hometown Hero, the Craig Press is pleased to honor Neil Folks, who is likely one of Craig’s most visible residents and an active community volunteer in his late 70s, has become known as the wandering elder.

Since retiring from work at Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Folks has taken on a multitude of obligations in the community.

Recently not as active as in the past, he is often found at local government assemblies, volunteering with charitable organizations or simply offering sage advice.

“The community owes me nothing, it’s been good to me,” Folks said. “I owe the community everything.”

Folks doesn’t just say those words, he lives up to them words in numerous ways.

He is the president of the Craig’s chapter of the Fuller Center for Housing, was a spiritual counselor for people struggling and in the jail, a former Rotary Club President, and a Craig Moffat Economic Development Partnership board member.

With the Fuller Center, Folks recruits the help of local businesses and volunteers to construct housing for families in need.

When he isn’t busy helping build homes, Folks can be found building hopes.

As a spiritual counselor with hundreds of hours of professional training, Folks and then took it upon himself to lift grief from the young men who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system.

The philosophy of Folk’s therapy revolves around listening and consolation.

“You are an expert on your pain,” he said. “I walk with you through your fire.”

He deserves recognition for his many years of service to Northwest Colorado.

Merriam-Webster defines a "hero" as a person admired for achievements and noble qualities. Who's your hometown hero? A local first responder? Your neighbor? A co-worker? A friend? Help the Craig Press honor the unselfish service of our Hometown Heros each Wednesday by submitting the name of your hero and a short statement explaining why he or she should be honored. Send your story to hometownheroes@craigdailypress.com.

Colorado State Patrol trooper’s death highlights concern over first responders’ safety

The death of a Colorado State Patrol trooper killed last week while assisting a stranded driver has fueled concern over the safety of first responders who put their lives in danger along Colorado roadways. (File Photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado State Patrol troopers buried one of their own Thursday.

Corporal Dan Groves, an 11-year member of the patrol based out of the agency's Greeley office, was struck and killed by a car while helping a stranded driver during last week’s historic blizzard.

His death has highlighted a statewide concern over the safety of first responders who risk their lives during traffic stops and other roadside duties. This comes as traffic officials have reported a spike in fatal crashes in recent years, underscoring the need for more responsible driving.

Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Scott Elliott works in and around Routt County, but he knew Corporal Groves and mourned his loss.

“He was a great guy and a great trooper,” he said of Groves.

Elliott understands all too well the risks law enforcement officers take when they conduct traffic stops along increasingly busy roadways.

“It can be downright scary sometimes,” he said.

He vividly remembers an incident from more than 10 years ago when his own patrol car was hit while he was responding to a crash in the Denver metro area. Fortunately, he was unharmed.

That day has been stamped in his memory as a reminder of what can go wrong during seemingly routine incidents. He added that many other law enforcement officials have faced similar, life-threatening situations on the roads.

“It happens a lot,” he said.

A law actually exists to protect law enforcement during traffic stops.  It is called the Move Over Law and requires drivers to, as the name suggests, move over when passing first responders. Those who can’t do so must slow down as they pass.

The law has been around since 2005, but lawmakers have buckled down on enforcement in light of subsequent tragedies.

In 2017, the state passed a bill increasing the fines and maximum jail time for offenders after another trooper, Cody Donahue, was killed during a traffic stop. Drivers now face 12 to 18 months in jail and up to a $100,000 fine if they do not move over or slow down for first responders.

Elliott explained troopers also do their best to stay out of harm's way when walking and standing along busy roads. They go through rigorous training on topics like roadside safety and traffic incident management. Troopers know to watch for dangerous drivers and try to find the safest spots to stop along roadways.

Despite their best efforts, reckless drivers are always a risk factor, especially in inclement weather.

“A lot of drivers on our highway just go way, way, way too fast for the road conditions,” Elliott said.

The issue of first responder safety is two-fold, according to Sam Cole, communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation's traffic safety unit.

First, most Coloradoans do not know about the Move Over Law. To that end, he and others from the department have taken to social media and digital message boards in the last week to inform the public and promote cooperation.

Second, drivers across the state have become more reckless in recent years as roadways get busier and more congested.

Cole explained fatal car crashes in Colorado have increased by 30 percent since 2014. That far outpaces the state’s population growth, which is up 7 percent from 2014.

“There’s just more people driving unsafely on the roadways,” Cole said.

He added that if people adopted safer driving behavior, especially around first responders, hundreds of lives could be saved.

“The best rule of thumb is if you see flashing lights on the side of the road ahead of you, slow down or move over,” Cole said.

Funeral services for Corporal Groves were held Thursday and included a seven-mile procession that started in Mead and ended at his church in Longmont.

An investigation of the accident that led to his death is ongoing.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

Headlight infraction leads to DUI, crystal substance found in vehicle

SILT — On Wednesday, a Silt police officer observed a vehicle leaving the Kum & Go on Main Street just after 2:30 a.m. without its headlights on, according to an arrest affidavit on file with Garfield District Court.

The officer made the traffic stop a few blocks later and requested the driver’s license, insurance and registration.

"While I was speaking to the driver, I observed his eyes were pink, I could smell an odor of burnt marijuana, and there was a small bag filled with marijuana in the door handle on the driver side," the affidavit states.

The driver said the last time he smoked marijuana had been a couple of days ago, the officer reported. The driver also said that he did not have a license on him. When the officer pressed the issue, he admitted his license had been revoked.

After running the driver's name through dispatch the officer found that he was revoked with four additional offenses.

The officer then had the suspect perform voluntary roadside maneuvers to check for impairment.

After completing the test, the officer requested a drug recognition expert and arrested the driver, 30, for further DUI investigation, according to the affidavit.

The expert said he believed the driver was impaired by a central nervous stimulant and he was unsafe to operate a motor vehicle on public roadways.

The driver admitted to using methamphetamine the day before, the affidavit states.

During an inventory of the vehicle, a white crystal was found on the floor of the driver side of vehicle. It tested positive for methamphetamine, the affidavit also stated.

Also on the floorboard there was a small baggie that was ripped open and had minuscule amounts of a white, crystal-like substance, the affidavit states.

The driver was charged with possession of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence, among other charges.

Craig resident gets warning after two pit bulls get loose: On the Record — March 21

Craig Police Department

Thursday, March 21

12:50 a.m. On the 800 block of West First Street, police in Craig assisted another police agency. Craig police said they assisted the Moffat County Sheriff's Office with a juvenile who came to the Public Safety Center to turn themselves in on a warrant.

8:18 a.m. On East 13th Street, police in Craig assisted a motorist. Craig police said the motorist was stuck on the street, but the motorist did not need assistance.

10:05 a.m. On the 400 block of Barclay Street, police in Craig responded to an animal complaint. Animal control issued a Craig resident a verbal warning after their two pit bulls escaped and were later detained.

12:09 p.m. On the 800 block of West First Street, police in Craig responded to an animal complaint. Craig police said what was initially a burglary call, turned out to be a Craig resident who later found some missing property.  

2:45 p.m. Police in Craig executed a warrant. A 22-year-old Craig man was arrested on a warrant from an outside agency.

10:30 p.m. At Timberglen apartments, police in Craig checked on the welfare of a Craig resident. A caller from out of town requested a police check on a female party after their phone conversation was abruptly interrupted. Officers said they responded to the apartments and found the subject no longer lived there.

According to the Craig Police Department incident log, police responded to at least 51 calls for service on Thursday.

February hit-and-run on I-70 in Glenwood Springs officially ruled a suicide

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — After weeks of investigation, Garfield County authorities have ruled the Feb. 14 pedestrian fatality on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Springs was a suicide.

That night, longtime resident Connie Leckwold, 64, was killed when she was hit by an unknown vehicle on Interstate 70 near the Glenwood Hot Springs.

Since that time, local police have been trying to piece together what happened, interviewing friends, family and co-workers, as well as reviewing other available information, according to a Thursday Garfield County Coroner's Office press release.

Connie Leckwold

It was determined that Leckwold's death, based on the preponderance of medical and investigative evidence, was a suicide.

Post mortem toxicology was negative for alcohol or other drugs, states the press release.

There are no additional leads as to the vehicle or vehicles involved in the incident, but some witnesses in the area observed Leckwold near the interstate and police believe it may have been a semitrailer that was involved.

Leckwold (also known as Connie Meyers to those who knew her in Glenwood Springs), had worked as a valet at Valley View Hospital for several years. One of her co-workers said after the incident that Leckwold was known for her compassion for patients and families and they arrived and left the hospital.

Editorial: Have you thanked a plow driver?

When a snow storm blows through the Yampa Valley, inundating much of Moffat County, those of us who live in the Craig city limits have it pretty darn good.

While most residents were sleeping in their warm beds March 13, oblivious to the frigid, 15-foot-deep blanket that — to this day — coats much of the landscape outside town, snow plow crews with Moffat County and Colorado Department of Transportation were hard at work trying to break through the white wall isolating our beautiful town from the rest of the outside world.

A picture posted on social media by Dan Miller, the county's road and bridge director, confirmed what many of us already knew — those of us who live outside the city were buried, and some still are.

Miller and his crew of plow trucks and motor graders aren't invincible. They were forced to stop their attempts to beat back the snow March 13 after blizzard conditions reduced visibility to nearly zero. Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume activated the county's emergency operations center and said wind was the most significant risk factor for maintenance personnel still working in the elements.

"It’s unsafe for those crews to be out," Hume said March 13. As a result of Hume's and Miller's actions, no one on Moffat County's plow crew was injured — though some vehicles became stuck in the snow — but the fact remains; snow plow drivers risk their lives to make our lives easier.

The day following the March 13 blizzard was beautiful — sunny skies prevailed as kids walked about Craig enjoying a rare snow day. Some might rush to judge Moffat County School District for canceling school a day too late. The reality is the school district canceled school on the correct day because the roads were not safe for school buses. Can you imagine a bus full of our kids getting stuck — or worse — after trying in vain to navigate Moffat County's frigid and isolated county roads a day after a major blizzard?

All it took was one more day for Miller and his crews to knock back enough snow to open the major arterial roadways so most kids could get back to school before spring break.

"The crews did all the work. I just sat in my office and looked pretty," Miller said jokingly Tuesday before acknowledging he did personally take quite a number of calls.

"I did get 150 calls Monday on my cellphone," he said.

You read that right. Moffat County residents can pick up the phone and call the county road and bridge department, and someone — maybe even the head honcho himself — will come dig you out with a heavy piece of machinery.

As one of the largest counties in Colorado, our wide open spaces make for scenic recreation, peace, and quiet. But with those wide open spaces come challenges posed by mother nature, and we all must face them. There are several thousand of miles worth of road in Moffat County. That's why we offer our heartfelt thanks to the plow crews for all their hard work in dangerous conditions during Moffat County's storm. We must also remember to have patience with such crews and know that, once they get a call from a stranded Moffat County resident, rancher, or visitor, help is on the way.

It took city, county, and state crews a little less than a week to open up Moffat County's roads after mother nature utterly buried them. That's pretty incredible, so from the bottom of our hearts — thank you.

With Bell’s on: Carelli’s hosting launch party in Craig for seasonal microbrew

If you’re a lover of craft beer, there’s a place you’ll want to be next week. And before you say, “I’ll be there with bells on,” that part’s already covered.

On tap, that is.

Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery hosts its annual re-release of its seasonal favorite, Oberon Ale, and part of the pouring effort will be Craig eatery Carelli’s, hosting a special evening with a tap takeover of drinks from the provider.

The night starts at 5 p.m. March 28 and includes the guest of honor, Oberon, as well as several other Bell’s brews coming from the Great Lakes — Hopslam Ale, Flamingo Fruit Fight, Two-Hearted Ale, and Third Coast Old Ale.

Bell’s, which operates out of Kalamazoo and Comstock, Michigan, will also provide a variation on the Oberon recipe with a tangy blend of mango-habañero.

There is no admission charge for the evening, which lasts as long as the kegs keep flowing.

Carelli’s owner Brett Etzler said he has been a fan of Bell’s since his college days when attending Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan.

“It was the early ’90s, Bell’s was just a few years old and a kind of tiny place,” he said. “That was one of the first microbrews I ever had, which is why it’s near and dear to my heart.”

He added that in its inception, Oberon Ale was known as Solsun, before a lawsuit from the makers of El Sol beer forced a name change.

“The quality hasn’t changed much. If anything, they’ve gotten better,” he said.

Etzler first brought in Bell’s inventory last fall as part of his ongoing effort to promote a variety of microbrews on the menu among Carelli’s Italian fare.

“Ever since we’ve started selling, we’ve been one of the biggest sellers in Colorado,” he said, adding that he was thrilled when he was approached about helping to kick off Oberon’s return.

Etzler’s hook-up in the area is Steamboat Springs-based B&K Distributing, with representative Matt Meisegener aiding him in bringing in different kinds of flavor to Northwest Colorado.

“It’s good to see he’s opened the eyes of people to the craft beer world,” he said. “There’s a whole plethora of beers out there.”

Young Craig bowlers rolling their way to state after regional successes

Wherever they may be rolling along to in the weeks to come, you can bet Craig kids will be doing it with focus and determination.

Craig will send five bowlers to the state round of the Pepsi Youth Tournament in April in Longmont following a successful session on their home lanes this past weekend at Thunder Rolls Bowling Center for the Western region round of the event.

Placing first and second, respectively, in the boys 20 and under division, Trenton Hillewaert and Trevor Miller rolled a 1035 and a 1012 across six games to qualify for the next round.

While Hillewaert had his best go in the fifth game with a 204, Miller started strong with a 215 in the first.

For boys 17 and under, Cody Lewis earned third place and picked up a total 1054 for the weekend as part of his first year bowling competitively.

“Learning how to use two hands has been the toughest part,” he said, noting that considering the upcoming roll is far different than simply tossing the ball down the alley as quickly as possible.

Though his tournament tallies ranged from 132 to 221 during the weekend, Lewis happened on a perfect game during a practice session this week, hitting every bowler’s dream of a 300 score.

For boys 12 and under, Andrew Duran took second with a six-game run of 770.

“The toughest part is concentrating,” he said.

Rounding out the state qualifiers who Aveory Lighthizer, who finished as the runner-up in the 15U girls division with an 857.

Lighthizer’s mother, Anna Martinez, is one of the coaches for Craig’s youth bowling team, with 31 local youths part of the regional event.

“That’s the most kids we’ve had in a long time,” she said, adding that about 70 kids have been part of the youth leagues this season.

Her son, Zander Martinez, was among the youngest competitors over the weekend, the top finisher for boys under 10, scoring 678. For bowlers under 12, the tournament is referred to as Youth Generation.

“Kids are really building up a lot of confidence,” she said. “It’s about learning the bowling, but also it’s about the courtesy and working as a team. We work a lot on that bonding, and it helps them have more fun and be more confident. It’s really fortunate that we’re able to host a tournament here because it’s good for the kids and brings more people into Craig.”

Some bowlers have been on the lanes half their lives, while others are still in their first year.

“I’ve gotten a lot better since I started,” said Conner Perkins, who placed fourth in the 20U boys division. “When I started, I was just a straight bowler, but now I can curve it a lot more.”

LeeAnna Nelson has been in the sport for four years, taking seventh among girls 17 and younger.

“I could have done a little better,” she said. “My fifth game really went my way. Learning a new oil pattern and meeting new people, that was my favorite part.”

Chris Runyan served as organizer and sargent-at-arms for the regional event in Craig, which also featured young bowlers from Rifle, El Jebel, Grand Junction and more. She also works with other youth tournaments across the state, including the South region in Colorado Springs and Metro in Greeley.

She hopes to see kids from Craig go all the way to the Junior Gold Nationals in Detroit, with the hope that some of the new challenges at each level — including oil patterns on the lanes — will sink in for athletes new and returning.

“If you’re going to compete against thousands of kids in Detroit, you’d better know how to bowl,” she said. “I love seeing these kids do well.”

Colorado officials warn feeding wildlife harms animals, does not help

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Spring has arrived, but heavy snows and cold temperatures have kept wildlife at lower elevations around Steamboat Springs where they frequently encounter humans.

Those humans, seeing scraggly herds of elk, deer and moose, sometimes take it upon themselves to feed what they see as starving animals struggling to survive the area’s harsh winter months.

But, local wildlife officials, seeing animals fall sick or even die after eating human food, are urging the public to keep their distance from wild animals and allow them to remain just that — wild.

Feeding or otherwise disturbing wildlife not only hurts their health, it attracts feral creatures into urban areas, creating dangerous situations for both those animals and the people who live here.

A news release published Wednesday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife described how a deer in the San Luis Valley died recently because of human-provided food. Officials examined its stomach and found it filled with corn and grain, both foods that deer can’t digest.

Incidents like this explain why it is illegal in Colorado to feed wildlife. Violators can face fines for doing so, but the real consequences fall upon the animals themselves.

Mike Porras, public information officer for Parks and Wildlife’s northwest region, said despite what many believe, native animals have adapted to the area’s subzero winter temperatures and deep snowpack.

“Wildlife has been existing in these kind of conditions for eons without human help,” he said.

Herd animals like elk and deer follow a regular migration pattern each year, descending from the surrounding mountains to the Yampa Valley where they forage for any remaining vegetation.

For the most part, they subsist on the fat they stored in the plant-plentiful summer months. They typically lose 30 to 40 percent of their body weight during the winter, according to the news release.

Kris Middledorf, a Parks and Wildlife area manager based in Steamboat, considers this a period of Darwinian natural selection. The strong survive and give birth to healthy, similarly strong offspring.

“Some animals — they starve and they die,” Middledorf said. “That is natural and what CPW expects.”

When people feed wildlife, they disrupt that natural process.

“In most cases, human intervention has far worse consequences than doing nothing,” Porras said.

In addition to corn and grain, he has seen people feeding more processed foods like corn chips to wild animals.

“That can severely damage their digestive system, leading to death,” he said, as proved by the deer found in the San Luis Valley.

Middledorf added that feeding wildlife makes them dependent on humans and brings more animals to urban areas. This has been a more serious issue recently, as the snow melts around town, and more animals have come to graze on the newly uncovered vegetation.

He pointed to a situation last week involving a young moose that had been hanging out under the gondola at Steamboat Resort. People in the nearby condominiums were throwing food at it from their balconies. Some got within five feet of the moose, one of the state's most aggressive animals, just to take a selfie with it.

If the moose had charged or injured someone, that person wouldn’t be the only one facing consequences.

“Any animal that attacks a human being, we will have to put that animal down,” Middledorf said.

To prevent such a situation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved the moose to a more remote area last week. That requires tranquilizing the animal, which Middledorf said can put wildlife at further risk after they are released.

He even had a term for it: “capture myopathy.” It is a disease often associated with the capture of a wild animal that causes muscle damage and stress. For animals already struggling from the winter months, such a disease could be a breaking point.

With all of this in mind, Middledorf said his main goal is to educate the public to respect local wildlife and maintain their distance.

“The best thing we can do is learn to coexist with these animals,” he said. “That means learning to keep our distance and not feeding them.”

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email dmaiolo@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.