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Father of man accused of starting Lake Christine Fire asks for trial in trespass case

EAGLE — Craig Miller said he is not guilty and will take his chances at trial.

Miller, whose son Richard is accused with Allison Marcus of sparking the Lake Christine Fire, pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning to charges that he stormed to a neighbor’s house and confronted them, accusing them of telling police that Richard and Marcus were in his Missouri Heights home.

“Mr. Miller vehemently denies engaging in any criminal behavior. We look forward to clearing his name and telling his side of the story at trial,” Michael Fox, Craig Miller’s attorney, said.

Richard Miller and Marcus, both 23, each face felony arson charges. They are accused of firing incendiary rounds at a Basalt shooting range that started the Lake Christine Fire on July 3.

Craig Miller, Richard’s father, was arrested for his alleged behavior when Eagle County deputies received a tip July 14 that his son and Marcus were at his Missouri Heights home.

Craig Miller, 49, allegedly became upset that someone had tipped off law enforcement officials. Police say he angrily charged over to a neighbors’ house to confront them, according to his arrest affidavit.

There was reportedly some miscommunication about what date in July that Richard Miller and Marcus would turn themselves in.

District Attorney Bruce Brown said he interpreted it would be July 13.

Craig Miller said he interpreted it to be July 16, a Monday, and had asked that law enforcement stay away from the house that weekend because they were hosting family members.

Police say that when law enforcement officials arrived, Miller went to a neighbor’s house, “knocking on the door, screaming and trying to get into the locked home,” the incident report said. When law enforcement arrived, the neighbor said Miller had used a crowbar to try to get in.

Shortly after Craig Miller was placed in the back of a patrol car and placed under arrest, Richard Miller and Marcus exited the house with their hands in the air and said they wanted to surrender, police said.

All three remain free on bond.

Craig Miller’s three-day trial is scheduled to begin April 8, 2019, before District Court Paul Dunkelman on criminal trespass charges, a felony, and misdemeanor menacing charges. If convicted he faces between one and three years in jail.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan told Judge Dunkelman that prosecutors had offered Miller a plea deal. Miller rejected it and will go to trial.

Miller is back in court Jan. 11 for a hearing in advance of his April trial.

The Lake Christine Fire burned from July 3 through early October and consumed more than 12,500 acres in the Basalt State Wildlife Area and on Basalt Mountain in the White River National Forest. Firefighting costs are estimate at more than $17 million, part of a $40 million tab to fight four wildfires last summer, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

Officials believe they’ve discovered body of missing Front Range man in North Routt County

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Authorities believe they have discovered the body of a missing Front Range man near a cabin in the Steamboat Lake area of North Routt County.

Foul play is not suspected as contributing to his death.

The 66-year-old man was last heard from Nov. 4, and family members contacted law enforcement Saturday, Nov. 10 because the family believed he might be at property the family owns near Steamboat Lake.

Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies found the man’s vehicle on the property Saturday.

Search and Rescue volunteers then searched for the man on Saturday and Sunday but were unsuccessful.

Undersheriff Doug Scherar said plans were made to have a cadaver dog help with the search, but it was not needed after a Classic Air Medical helicopter agreed to search the area Wednesday.

Scherar said the helicopter crew discovered what they thought was a body, and Search and Rescue volunteers then helped recover it.

Scherar said the body was located about 2,000 feet up a mountain across from the Steamboat Lake State Park Visitors Center and near the family's cabin.

Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg arrived at the scene and will be responsible for identifying the man and his cause of death.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland.

Late night maintenance raises suspicions: On the record Nov. 13

Editor's Note: The Craig Regional Communication Center housed in the Public Safety Center in Craig was impacted by an internet and telephone outage on Monday, Nov. 12 and most of the day Tuesday, Nov. 13. During this time incident logs were handwritten and were unavailable to the press.

Craig Police Department

Tuesday, Nov. 13

6:53 a.m. In Craig, officers from the Craig Police Department received a Safe2Tell report. It was one of two such reports recorded as received on Tuesday. Both incidents are under investigation.

12:30 p.m. Near the intersection of East 13th Street and Yampa Avenue, officers responded to a crash resulting in property damage. A gray Chevrolet Avalanche collided with a deer. The driver was not injured. The deer survived the initial impact but was on the ground injured. The fate of the deer is unknown.

5:15 p.m. Near the intersection of Woodbury Drive and West Victory Way, officers responded to a crash resulting in property damage. Two older model SUVs, one a Ford Explorer, collided in the intersection. There were no injuries. One driver was issued with a traffic citation.

5:42 p.m.  On the 2000 block of Baker Street, officers responded to a caller reporting broken pipes and requesting to have the water turned off at the curb. Officers notified the water department.

6:45 p.m. On the 600 block of Wickes Avenue, officers responded when a caller reported possible domestic violence in progress. The caller said a woman was heard yelling, "stop hurting me." Upon investigation, officers discovered it was verbal only. The woman said she was injured at work.

8:03 p.m. On the 800 block of Russell Street, officers received a call reporting a possible scam. The caller stated that she had 11 messages on her voice mail from someone claiming her social security number has suspicious activity and should be suspended immediately.

8:36 p.m. On the 2000 block of West Victory Way, officers cited a 23-year-old Craig man for trespassing.

9:23 p.m. On the 900 block of Taylor Street, officers investigated a report of suspicious people with flashlights inside a house that had been vacant for six months. Officers contacted the suspicious people. They are winterizing houses and provided offers with an address for a second house they were working on that night.

10:25 p.m. On the 400 block of Tucker Street, officers responded to a report of a possible domestic violence incident. The caller reported that a man and woman, who did not live in the unit they were near, were fighting or threatening to fight each other. Upon investigation, officers learned it was a verbal argument between brother and sister.

Assault on deputy in Moffat County jail results in arrest for attempted murder

CRAIG — A Craig man is facing first-degree attempted murder charges after he allegedly assaulted a deputy while in the Moffat County Jail.

Geoffrey Duzik

According to a joint news release issued by the Craig Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office for the 14th Judicial District, Geoffrey Duzik, of Craig, was arrested Sunday, Nov. 11, on suspicion of attempted first-degree murder following an attack on a Moffat County Sheriff's Deputy in the jail Saturday, Nov. 10.

No information was provided about the condition of the deputy.

Duzik was in jail for parole violations. He remains in custody in lieu of a $100,000 bond, and his next court appearance is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20.

The incident is under investigation by the Craig Police Department and the District Attorney's Office.

“All charges are merely accusations of guilt, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” according to the news release.

Chris Watts’ parents break their silence after son’s guilty plea in murder of wife, daughters

DENVER — For the first time, the parents of Chris Watts are speaking out about their son’s case. Ronnie and Cindy Watts spoke from their home in Spring Lake, North Carolina to Denver7 Monday.

The interview comes nearly a week after their son pleaded guilty in a Weld County courtroom to killing his pregnant wife, Shanann Watts, and young daughters Celeste and Bella in Frederick, Colo. in August. The victims’ bodies were found at an oil work site in Weld County owned by Anadarko Petroleum Company, where Chris Watts worked before he was fired following his arrest.

The couple said they are devastated about the deaths of their grandchildren and daughter-in-law but are still not convinced the world has been told what they say is the full story.

“He’s not a sociopath. He’s not a psychopath,” Cindy Watts said of her son.

The North Carolina couple said they are just trying to find the truth and are frustrated because they say they weren’t allowed to get those answers before their son's plea agreement.

“I asked Chris, ‘If you did not do this, do not confess to something you didn’t do,’" said Cindy Watts. "(Chris Watts' defense attorney) shut me down. She completely shut me down."

When asked if they feel Chris Watts was coerced into taking the plea deal, the couple said they're not sure.

“I don’t know. I have no idea," Mrs. Watts said. "To me, all they wanted to do was save his life, just save his life. Save his life and life in prison — to me there’s no difference. He’s going to die in prison. I just want him to fight. I don’t want him to take this plea deal. I want him to plead not guilty to the children.”

His parents said they had many questions after he confessed to killing Shanann, claiming he saw her strangle their kids to death beforehand.

“He said, ‘I’m sorry. I lost — I went into a rage, and I killed her.’ And he said, ‘I am so sorry. I ruined your life. I ruined my life,’" Mrs. Watts said.

“After the fact with the bodies, he said, ‘Dad, I could not put the girls with her after what she did — I could not put her with her,'” Ronnie Watts said.

Denver7 asked why then he decided to put the girls in oil tanks.

“I don’t understand. I don’t understand,” Mr. Watts said.

Watts' parents also question what the trigger was that led to the murders to which their son confessed and pleaded guilty.

A day after Shanann and the girls were reported missing, Chris Watts told Tomas Hoppough with Denver7 that the Frederick couple was having problems.

“It wasn’t like an argument, but we had an emotional conversation. I’ll leave it at that,” Chris Watts said in August.

Mrs. Watts said if this actually happened, and that he killed the three of them, there had to have been a trigger. She said wants to know what that was.

“If he didn’t kill the children, I want him to face that and let them prove it,” Mr. Watts said.

Chris Watts’ parents acknowledge Shanann’s family’s frustration and loss and said they are pleading for the truth from their son.

“There’s a whole lot of unanswered questions about the case. Everything happened too quick there, from a case status to a plea,” Mr. Watts said.

“It has been so overwhelming. And I feel like I have to do something to help my son,” Mrs. Watts said. “I just need to do something. If he’s not going to fight, I’m going to fight for him.”

SHANANN'S FAMILY RESPONDS

Early Tuesday morning, the parents of Shanann Watts — Frank and Sandra Rzucek — responded to the Watts' family interview. Their statement reads:

“Shanann Watts was a faithful wife, and the most gentle and loving mother in the world to her children Bella, Celeste, and Nico. She was also the best daughter any parent could ever hope for. Shanann was a wonderful soul.

Everyone who knew Shanann knows this to be true. Even Chris Watts knows this to be true. Yet Chris Watts still chose to murder Shanann, Bella, Celeste, and Nico. Chris Watts still chose to dump the bodies of his own family in oil tanks. And Chris Watts still chose to lie about it until he could lie no more. He pled guilty to murdering his family because he is guilty.

Monday evening, the parents of Chris Watts gave an interview in which they attempted to defend their son. In doing so, they felt the need to make vicious, grotesque and utterly false statements about Shanann. Their false statements, however hurtful and inaccurate, will never alter the truth about Shanann, and will never alter the truth about the crimes committed by their son, Chris Watts.

Shanann’s memory and reputation deserves to be protected. And her family is fully prepared to do so.”

SENTENCING HEARING AWAITS

In a deal that will allow him to avoid the death penalty, Chris Watts pleaded guilty last week to all nine counts he was originally charged with in August. Watts is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, Nov. 19.

Fraudsters pretend to be Craig law enforcement: On the Record — Nov. 9 through 11

Craig Police Department

Friday, Nov. 9

12:17 a.m. At the west Kum & Go, officers with the Craig Police Department were called by someone who wanted to speak with officers about suspicious activity.

10:18 a.m. On the 900 block of Ledford Street, officers responded to a caller who reported they had been contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS. It was a scam.

11:17 a.m. Near the intersection of Colorado Highway 13 and West First Street, officers responded to a crash resulting in injuries. Two vehicles were involved, a Ford Focus and a pickup truck that was acting as a pilot car for a wide load. The truck crashed through the guardrail and rolled over, and the driver had to be pulled from the vehicle. The drivers were the only occupants of the vehicles and were both transported to The Memorial Hospital for treatment of unknown injuries. One of the drivers was issued a summons. The cause of the crash is known, but the report was not complete at press time. The investigating officer was not available, and Craig Police Department, the agency in charge of investigating the incident, said it would be unable to comment further until Wednesday.

12:29 p.m. On the 1100 block of West Victory Way, officers recovered an abandoned bicycle with a Steamboat Springs license number. It was taken to the Public Safety Center for safekeeping.

12:31 p.m. At Domino’s, officers responded to a caller reporting that no one appeared to be at the business. Upon further investigation, it was discovered the employees were in the office, and everything was OK.

6:11 p.m. Near the intersection of Yampa and 15th streets, officers responded to a caller who reported seeing a man in a motorized chair in a black coat riding along the road. The caller feared the man might be hit. Officers found the man in the chair off the road and safe.

7:40 p.m. At a Craig trailer park, officers responded to a report of suspected domestic violence. A man and woman were reportedly in front of a residence, and the woman was said to be crying. The caller thought they might have been in a fight. The man and woman left the area, and officers were unable to locate them.

9:13 p.m. On the 600 block of Finley Lane, officers arrested a 28-year-old Yampa man on suspicion of driving under the influence, driving under restraint, turning movements and required signals violation, and violation of bail bond conditions.  

9:40 p.m. On the 800 block of East Seventh Street, officers responded when a caller who reported that, while he was in jail, his belongings were stolen. He later located his items outside the dwelling and recovered them.

Saturday, Nov. 10

7:47 a.m. On the 400 block of Taylor Street, officers responded to a person who reported shots had been fired from some type of gun and damaged a bedroom window. The caller was unsure what type of weapon was used and said it might have been a BB gun. The incident is under investigation.

1:42 p.m. On the 1300 block of Yampa Avenue, officers responded to a report that a PlayStation had been stolen from a home. The incident is under investigation.

4:36 p.m. On the 1500 block of Barclay Street, officers received a call from someone who reported they had received a telephone call from a person claiming to be a deputy, who threatened the person with a restraining order unless they paid a certain amount of money. The call was fraudulent.  

5:14 p.m. On the 1000 block of Barclay Street, officers responded to a caller who reported they had received a call from someone claiming to be with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office. The call was fraudulent.  

5:21 p.m. At the Public Safety Center, officers responded to a person who reported receiving a call from someone claiming to be a deputy. The call was fraudulent. Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong said, "If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be law enforcement, call the Craig Police Department. Do not provide personal information over the phone." The phone number for the Craig Police Department is 970-826-2360.

Sunday, Nov. 11

12:38 a.m. On the 500 block of Tucker Street, officers responded to a report of a burglary. The caller said someone had broken into the caller's house. Items were there that shouldn't have been, and it looked as though someone had kicked in the door. The incident is under investigation.

2:12 a.m. In Craig, officers investigated a report of domestic violence. When officers contacted the parties, they learned it was verbal only, and the two parties separated.

9:57 a.m. In Craig, officers attempted to serve a warrant.  

2:09 p.m. On 600 block of Ranney Street, officers responded to a caller who reported a fawn had died in their yard.

4:09 p.m. On the 900 block of West First Street, officers notified a driver he had a flat tire.

4:15 p.m. In Craig, officers attempted to serve a warrant.

9:40 p.m. In Craig, officers received a Safe2Tell report, one of two such reports received during the weekend. Both are under investigation.

Grand Junction man arrested on kidnapping charges in Mesa County

MESA COUNTY — At 2:53 a.m. Monday, Nov. 12, Mesa County Sheriff's deputies were called to a report that a man had broken into a home on the 2900 block of Clarinet Lane and was holding the occupants hostage, according to a news release from the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

The male victim told deputies he woke up to the suspect holding a knife to his throat. He and a woman who was staying at the home were then held hostage in the living room for about an hour. The male victim was able to escape and run to a neighbor's house to call 911, suffering minor injuries in the process.

The female victim told deputies the suspect then pushed her out of the house, and they both left the area in her car. The female said she was assaulted in the process. Deputies were able to track the vehicle to a parking lot near the Fruita Welcome Center, and the suspect was arrested without further incident.

The suspect, David Gillespie, 31, of Grand Junction, was reportedly known to the victims.

Gillespie is being held at the Mesa County Detention Facility facing charges of two counts of second degree kidnapping, a Class 2 felony; first degree burglary, a Class 3 felony; and aggravated robbery, a Class 3 felony.

He also faces misdemeanor charges including two counts of false imprisonment criminal mischief, second degree criminal tampering, felony menacing harassment, two counts of third degree assault, two counts of reckless endangerment, menacing, and domestic violence.

The case remains under investigation.

Search called off for missing Front Range man believed to be in Steamboat Lake area

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Authorities have called off a search in the Steamboat Lake area for a 66-year-old man from the Front Range.

“With the resources that we have and with the conditions that are up there, we have searched all probable areas,” said Kristia Check-Hill, the Routt County Search and Rescue volunteer who served as incident commander. “Until we have further information, we will not be going back into the field.”

The man was last heard from on Saturday, Nov. 4, Check-Hill said.

Family members contacted local law enforcement Saturday, Nov. 10, because they believed the man could be on some family property near Steamboat Lake.

Routt County Sheriff's Office deputies located the man’s vehicle on the property Saturday.

At 1:15 p.m. Saturday, a team of five Search and Rescue volunteers set out looking for the man in areas near the vehicle. They returned to town at 5:40 p.m. after poor conditions in the field made the search dangerous, Check-Hill said.

“It’s hard to search in the conditions that we were up against — 10 inches of snow as it is and low visibility — but you put darkness on top of that, and you can't see what's even underneath your feet, so it does no good to be searching,” she said.

The safety of Search and Rescue volunteers is a priority, Check-Hill added.

At 8:15 a.m. Sunday, eight volunteers set out to comb additional areas mentioned by the family and other areas where they believed the man could be. Search and Rescue returned Sunday evening as conditions again worsened.

The family will continue to look for the man, Check-Hill said, though Search and Rescue warned them to be wary of the poor weather conditions. The family was instructed to report any clues to the man’s location to law enforcement.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

Colorado State Patrol introduces #HiddenScars video series for National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, the Colorado State Patrol is introducing a new video series entitled #HiddenScars on its social media channels in conjunction with National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week, according to a release from the agency.

The videos feature a new responder each Tuesday and explore how incidents and tragedies go far beyond the victims involved. These scars can continue to haunt responders never allowing them to be able to let go of what they have experienced while on the job.   

During the week of Nov. 11 to 17, first responders including those from CSP, fire departments, emergency medical services, tow companies, CDOT, NHTSA and various other agencies are joining forces for a common purpose: keeping each other safe while in the performance of their jobs.

“We know our jobs are dangerous, and we have been reminded of that far too many times with fallen officers and other public servants killed in the line of duty” said CSP Deputy Chief Mark Savage. “Educating first responders and the motoring public can greatly reduce or even eliminate these tragedies entirely.” 

By creating and teaching first responders who work on traffic related incidents how to properly stage, secure, and clear a scene, not only increases the safety of everyone including responders and citizens, it helps reduce the amount of time spent on scene. In turn, this helps to reduce congestion and dangerous driving conditions for those not involved.

Another crucial factor, the release said, is reminding drivers to use caution when approaching and driving near crash scenes and maintenance areas. Every year, public safety professionals are struck by vehicles and either injured or killed as they are trying to work on an already active scene. If you see emergency personnel on the road, give them room to work and give yourself room to stay safe.

Officers investigate fraud reports in Craig: On the Record — Thursday, Nov. 8

Craig Police Department

Thursday, Nov. 8

8:38 a.m. On the 800 block of Ashley Road, officers with the Craig Police Department responded to a report of a threat.

9:10 a.m. In Craig, officers investigated a report of a possible drug violation or incident.

9:42 a.m. On the 11000 block of Moffat County Road 103, officers provided assistance to another agency.

12:56 p.m. In Craig, officers investigated a report of a possible sex crime.

1:28 p.m. On the 2300 block of Jeffcoat Drive, officers investigated a fraud report.

2:13 p.m. On the 600 block of Taylor Street, officers investigated a report of a suspicious person, vehicle, or article.

3:05 p.m. On the 1000 block of West Victory Way, officers investigated a report of a threat.

3:48 p.m. On the 900 block of Finley Lane, officers responded to a motor vehicle crash involving property damage.

4:14 p.m. On the 800 block of East Victory Way, officers investigated a report of a possible weapons violation.

4:55 p.m. On the 1100 block of School Street, officer investigated a report of a threat.

5:14 p.m. On the 800 block of Pershing Street, officers investigated a fraud report.

5:31 p.m. On the 2000 block of West Victory Way, officers investigated a theft report.

7:02 p.m. On the 600 block of Wickes Avenue, officers investigated a theft report.

8:37 p.m. On the 700 block of Hospital Loop, officers responded to a 911 hangup call.

9:24 p.m. In Craig, officers investigate a report of a possible sex crime.