2020: Year in Review, No. 10-1
The year in news for 2020 was full of both stories of cheer and unfortunate incidents alike at the local level, from feel-good stories, to unfortunate crime incidents and the overwhelming wave of COVID-19 news.
While social media and other online outlets have afforded the Craig Press significant internet views throughout the year, the Craig Press staff narrowed down the top 20 stories based purely on pageviews at CraigDailyPress.com.
Story — Total online pageviews
No. 10 — Single vehicle rollover sends Moffat County teenager to hospital with life-threatening injuries — 7,546
Colorado State Patrol responded to a single vehicle rollover crash around 2:32 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 that sent a 15-year-old Moffat County teenager to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The rollover crash occurred on Moffat County Road 31 near milepost 1 in rural Moffat County roughly 2 miles north of Craig, CSP said.
A gray 2004 Dodge Ram pickup was being driven northbound on Moffat County Road 31 by a 20 year old male from Craig. According to CSP, the driver lost control of the truck and it rolled off the left side of the roadway.
A 20-year-old male passenger from Vernal, Utah suffered minor injuries, and a 16-year-old female passenger from Craig suffered minor injuries. A 15-year-old female passenger from Craig suffered life threatening injuries during the crash, CSP said. All occupants from the Dodge were transported to Memorial Regional Health.
No. 9 — Two men – one a Craig resident – arrested on child rape charge — 7,735
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office arrested Larry R. Darnell, 50, of Kremmling and Eric R. Cordero, 47, of Craig after an almost year and a half investigation into allegations the two men repeatedly sexually assaulted a child.
Darnell has been charged with five counts of sexual assault against a child while in a position of trust, three counts of sexual exploitation of a child and single counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of material showing the sexual exploitation of a child.
Cordero was arrested on charges of sexual assault with the aid of a person or weapon, sexual assault on an incapable victim, sexual assault on a victim under 15, sexual assault on a child and sexual assault with a 10-year age difference.
No. 8 — Coronavirus in Moffat County: Male in his 30s is first positive case of COVID-19 — 9,654
On March 26, the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Moffat County as a 30-year-old male tested positive for the virus.
The male was served isolation orders, while other members of the male’s residence were in self-quarantine, per Public Health’s orders.
No. 7 — Moffat County man facing felony charges following early Sunday morning rollover that killed 15-year-old — 11,298
A 20-year-old Moffat County resident is facing felony charges following a rollover crash early Sunday morning on Moffat County Road 31 that killed a 15-year-old female, who was a passenger in the car.
Colorado State Patrol Trooper Josh Lewis confirmed Monday morning that the 15-year-old, who was transported to Memorial Regional Health with life-threatening injuries Sunday, succumbed to her injuries.
The rollover occurred at 2:32 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 13 on Moffat County Road 31 roughly 2 miles north of Craig, CSP said.
Dillon Burch, 20, was driving the 2004 gray Dodge Ram northbound on Moffat County Road 31 when he lost control of the truck and rolled off the left side of the roadway. CSP says speed and alcohol are suspected as being contributing factors in the crash.
Burch currently faces felony vehicular assault — weapon charges, as well as a misdemeanor child abuse charge, on top of three traffic violations, including DUI, reckless driving and driving without a seat belt.
No. 6 — Moffat County Sheriff’s Office arrests suspect in homicide — 12,522
Griffin James Loughlin, 24, was arrested Wednesday, Dec. 2 in Salt Lake City, and charged with first-degree murder in connection with a homicide reported Monday, Nov. 30.
Around 5:30 p.m. on Monday, November 30, the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office was notified of a deceased male subject found in a remote area of northwest Moffat County, approximately 2.75 miles from the Colorado/Utah border.
The victim has been identified as Ian Richard Tillack, 25. Neither Tillack or Loughlin are Moffat County residents.
An initial investigation from the sheriff’s office revealed the man had been shot. Personnel and resources from Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Dinosaur Marshal’s Office, Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI,), the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and the Moffat County Coroner’s Office investigated the death.
Based on evidence at the scene, foul play was suspected, which led to an arrest warrant for Loughlin.
No. 5 — Craig Police Department arrests local woman connected to June 22 drug bust — 14, 273
The Craig Police Department arrested 29-year-old Britta Schmitzer June 24 in connection to the June 22 drug bust at a residence on the 500 Block of Rose Street that saw officers seize more than 42 grams of suspected methamphetamine, over 7 grams of suspected black tar heroin, and a large amount of cash.
According to the arrest affidavit, when PO Koopman arrived on scene for a home visit of the residence, a woman, later identified as Schmitzer, was leaving the residence with a large duffel bag. While communicating with 33-year-old Michael Colvin in the front yard, PO Koopman instructed Schmitzer to leave the bag.
Schmitzer dropped the bag and left, according to the affidavit, which later led to Colvin’s arrest, as police found functional scales, drug paraphernalia, new jeweler’s baggies, jeweler’s baggies with white powdery residue and new large zip lock bags, as well as the 42 grams of methamphetamine and 7 grams of black tar heroin. Police also found $2,253 comprised of small and large bills, as well as a bill of sale for a 1987 Kawasaki that was sold to Colvin.
Two days later, officers from CPD, with probable cause for arrest of Schmitzer stemming from the June 22 incident, contacted Schmitzer after seeing her around 3:30 p.m. as a passenger in a vehicle in front of a residence on 12th and Rose Street.
Schmitzer was placed under arrest, booked into Moffat County Jail and charged with unlawful distribution, manufacturing, dispensing or sale of drugs.
No. 4 — Forget the ballot: Wolves are already in Northwest Colorado — 17,444
While the state of Colorado narrowly passed Proposition 114 in November to reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado, the wolves didn’t wait for voter approval to enter Colorado.
In early January, the Craig Press filed an inquiry with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, citing a report from hunters in Irish Canyon that they found a bull elk carcass, located in Game Management Units 201-202, “ripped to pieces.” According to that report to CPW in late December 2019, the hunting party found large, dog-type tracks around the carcass, leading the hunters to believe it was from wolves.
CPW officers came in to investigate and took samples to send to the lab to confirm what they found.
A few days later, Northwest Region CPW Public Information Officer Mike Porras confirmed to the Craig Press that the tracks were indeed from wolves.
“At the site, CPW officers observed several large canid tracks from multiple animals surrounding the carcass,” Porras said. “The tracks are consistent with those made by wolves. In addition, the condition of the carcass is consistent with known wolf predation.”
This isn’t the first known sighting of wolves in the Game Management Units, according to Porras. In October 2019, a hunting party a few miles from the location of the recently-found scavenged elk carcass, observed approximately six large canids traveling in a group.
Due to the sighting in October 2019 and the tracks around the bull elk’s carcass in late December, CPW officials said they were confident a wolf pack appears to be active in northwest Colorado. CPW believes the pack consists of at least six wolves.
No. 3 — Tri-State Generation to close all 3 of its Colorado, New Mexico coal-fired power plants and coal mines by 2030 — 19,555
In early January, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced it will close all of its coal-fired power plants and mines in New Mexico and Colorado by 2030. The power provider serves nearly 20 rural electric cooperatives.
Tri-State announced the closure of its Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, New Mexico, by the end of 2020. It plans to close Craig Station Units 2 and 3, and the Colowyo Mine in Northwest Colorado by 2030.
In total, the closure of the power plants and mine impacts roughly 600 power plant and mine employees, who have been key to Tri-State’s and its predecessor generation and transmission cooperatives’ ability to supply reliable and affordable power to cooperatives for decades.
“Serving our members’ clean energy and affordability needs, supporting state requirements and goals, and leading the fundamental changes in our industry require the retirement of our coal facilities in Colorado and New Mexico,” said Rick Gordon, chairman of the board of Tri-State and a director of Mountain View Electric Association in eastern Colorado. “As we make this difficult decision, we do so with a deep appreciation for the contributions of our employees who have dedicated their talents and energy to help us deliver on our mission to our members.”
Craig Station, a 1,285-megawatt, three-unit power plant in Moffat County, will close by 2030, based on Thursday’s Tri-State announcement. The power plant’s units were constructed by Colorado Ute Electric Association and began operations between 1979 and 1984.
Tri-State acquired Craig Station and other assets from Colorado Ute in 1992. The power plant currently employs 253 people.
Colowyo Mine, located in Moffat and Rio Blanco counties, produces coal used at Craig Station and will cease production by 2030, at which time operations will turn entirely to reclamation. Tri-State purchased Colowyo Mine from Rio Tinto in 2011. The mine currently employs 219 people.
No. 2 — Craig woman arrested on charges of concealing death of an infant — 20,355
What appeared to be a routine drug bust on Jan. 26 in Craig led to a gruesome discovery when officers found the body of an infant during the execution of a search warrant.
Police originally responded to the Colorado Inn on East Victory Way Sunday night after receiving a report from a concerned resident claiming they heard a baby crying in the room next to them, according to the arrest affidavit.
Mikayla Diane Hoppe, 26, of Craig, was arrested about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 on drug possession charges, along with 30-year-old Ronald Martin Chovanec III, also of Craig.
Hoppe was later charged with tampering with physical evidence and concealing death after police found a backpack in the hotel room that contained the remains of a 30-week-old baby.
According to the arrest affidavit, officers smelled a foul odor, and inside the main, large zipper compartment to the backpack were several trash bags wrapped around a second backpack. Inside the second backpack were more trashbags and some clothing, a pillowcase and a possible towel, the affidavit states.
As officers continued to open up the backpack, officers discovered a dead, human infant inside the final trash bag.
During an initial investigation of death, the Moffat County Coroner approximated the age of the deceased baby at roughly 34 weeks old, and believed the baby was likely a stillborn.
No. 1 — ‘I never thought I’d see it again’: Hunting rifle stolen from former Craig resident in 1982 reunited 38 years later — 42,865
Former Tri-State Generation and Transmissions employee and former Craig resident Gary Rosine was reunited with a stolen hunting rifle after more than 38 years in late June.
“It was a Remington 700 .270, and I had just purchased it,” Rosine said from his home in Fairplay in June. “I still had the box and receipt and everything.”
having that receipt with the serial number on it helped Moffat County Investigator Gary Nichols reunite the rifle with its original owner last week after a tip from leadsonline.com, which located the stolen rifle at a pawn shop in Great Falls, Montana.
Nichols says he received a call from an investigator with the website in July 2019, alerting him to the whereabouts of the rifle. Leads is the largest investigative service based in Dallas and uses technology to help law enforcement track down stolen property and identify suspects.
“Once I received the tip I contacted the pawn shop in Great Falls and asked them if they had this specific rifle with this serial number,” Nichols said. “They said that they had it, so I told them not to get rid of it.”
“I never thought I’d see it again,” Rosine said. “I mean, what are the odds? For it to be out there that long and then to get it back? That’s pretty cool.”
“It’s still in good shape,” Rosine said. “It’s definitely still useable. The stock was modified over the years, so I’ll have to replace that, but it still looks much like it did back then.”
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While the state of Colorado will receive much less in vaccines in the second major rollout than expected, Moffat County continues to roll along vaccinating community members with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.