ASPEN - Field operations for missing Snowmass Village man George Aldrich have been discontinued indefinitely, local authorities said during a news conference Friday in Aspen.
"The decision to do so was made by the Incident Management Team and agency heads at the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, Aspen Police Department and Snowmass Police Department," said Alex Burchetta, sheriff's office spokesman.
Burchetta said while the field search has been halted, the investigation would continue. Anyone with information that may shed light on Aldrich's disappearance is urged to call a tip line at (970) 315-2103.
"I would like to make it perfectly clear that the operation is not over. We are not stopping and our efforts to locate George Aldrich will not cease," the sheriff's spokesman said.
Burchetta said the field search had been under way for the past 12 days, ever since the 28-year-old Aldrich was reported missing Nov. 29. On Friday, the effort continued, with a bloodhound team from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and two foot teams from Garfield County Search and Rescue and Mountain Rescue Aspen targeting areas along the Highway 82 corridor from the Catherine Store to the Pitkin/Eagle County line.
Also on Friday, officers with the Snowmass Police Department and members of the Aspen Skiing Co. searched Divide Way/County Road 11 from Krabloonik to the Snowmass Creek road closure. As was the case with a massive search Thursday involving 38 volunteers, a helicopter, area law-enforcement personnel, a search dog and a remote-operated vehicle working in an underwater pond at Snowmass Club Golf Course, Friday's efforts revealed no new information or evidence.
Aldrich, a native of Rhode Island, was last seen the night of Nov. 27, disembarking a late-evening RFTA bus at the Truscott stop after hanging out with friends for a few hours at Eric's Bar in Aspen. Friends and family have said that his drinking was not excessive - anywhere from two to five beers - and that he left the bar before 10 p.m. because he wanted to go home.
His father, George Aldrich Sr., attended Friday's news conference and thanked area law-enforcement agencies as well as the entire community for helping with the search and expressing their concern. He has been in Aspen since Nov. 30, along with two of his sons and family friends, spreading information about George Jr.'s disappearance and meeting with investigators on a daily basis. He plans to return home to Rhode Island and his family on Tuesday.
The younger Aldrich had been living in Snowmass Village since early November. He was working as a lift operator for the Aspen Skiing Co. and enjoying life in the Aspen area, a place he loved since first coming to the area while a college student in Denver four years ago.
"With the job market the way it is, he decided to come out here from Newport and get a job during the winter, with the goal of trying to break into marketing with [Skico]," said his older brother, Sean Aldrich, 36. "He loved this area and he loved snowboarding."
Earlier last week, a bloodhound picked up Aldrich's scent near the Aspen Country Inn but the trail stopped suddenly. One theory is that Aldrich departed the bus at Truscott on the edge of town, which was not his destination, and then may have taken another bus, walked or hitchhiked away from the area.
"I've told everybody here how grateful I am (for their help)," said George Aldrich Sr. at the news conference, which included representatives of the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office, Aspen Police Department and Mountain Rescue Aspen.
EAGLE COUNTY - The attorney representing the victim in an Edwards hit-and-run accident is asking District Court Judge Frederick Gannett to reject the plea agreement made between the district attorney and defendant Martin Erzinger.
Harold Haddon filed a brief with district court Friday citing cases that set precedent for such a ruling, arguing that the district courts in the cited cases "rejected the plea bargains and required the district attorney to move forward with trial on the most serious charges, and those orders were affirmed on appeal."
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has faced criticism over the plea bargain because it doesn't include a felony charge. In a letter to the Summit Daily and Vail Daily last month, Hurlbert said he received more than 1,000 e-mails and phone calls in one weekend about the case, mostly criticizing him for his reasoning behind the deal, which included consideration for Erzinger's job as a prominent Denver wealth manager.
Hurlbert has said Erzinger's job factored into the reasoning behind the deal because he wouldn't want Erzinger to lose his ability to pay restitution should he lose his job over the felony charge.
Dr. Steven Milo, the victim in the case, suffered serious injuries in the July 3 hit-and-run accident along Highway 6 in Edwards in which Erzinger was charged with leaving the scene. Milo, a 34-year-old New York anesthesiologist, has said justice in the case has never been about money.
"As you know, throughout this process I have never made any requests that your office obtain financial consideration from Mr. Erzinger. From the beginning, my goal has been to ensure that Mr. Erzinger is held accountable for the egregious nature of his conduct and its continuing effects on my family and me," Milo wrote in a letter to both Hurlbert and Deputy District Attorney Mark Brostrom on Oct. 21.
Richard Tegtmeier, Erzinger's attorney, said Haddon's brief never once mentions that the incident was an accident. Tegtmeier said he has expert testimony that confirms Erzinger suffers from sleep apnea and fell asleep at the time of the accident, not knowing he had hit someone when he drove off.
"This might sound funny, but our expert says that sleepy people don't know they're sleepy," Tegtmeier said. "That's why he's more likely than some to fall asleep while driving."
The original charges included one felony offense for leaving the scene of an accident which caused serious bodily injury and two traffic misdemeanor charges.
Tegtmeier said there's no basis for the felony charge because Erzinger allegedly didn't know he hit someone. He said Haddon is just trying to intimidate the district attorney and the court "to press them to file an unjustified felony charge."
Haddon claims that conversations with the District Attorney's Office led Milo to believe prosecutors were pursuing the felony charge and that Hurlbert's letter to the newspapers confirmed those conversations had been nothing but a "charade" because Hurlbert admitted that the plea offer had been made "months ago," according to Haddon's brief.
Haddon claims in the brief that plea deal had been struck without any discussion with Milo and that prosecutors were "disingenuously humoring him."
- Lauren Glendenning/Vail Daily
ASPEN - Aspen rescuers were called to Smuggler Mountain Friday evening to rescue a trio hikers who were lost in a snowstorm.
The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office was notified at about 8 p.m. that an emergency-locator beacon had been activated on Smuggler Mountain Road, which climbs the mountain located on Aspen's northeast flank. The sheriff's office was able to make phone contact with the owner of the beacon, who was among the group of lost hikers. Authorities were advised that the party was several miles up the road and that one individual in the group was possibly dehydrated and hypothermic.
Mountain Rescue Aspen sent a team of two snowmobiles up the road and brought the hikers to safety. One individual was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital.
The rescue team was off the mountain by 11 p.m., the sheriff's office said in a press release.
- Aspen Times staff report
The Boulder County Coroner has identified a 24-year-old man who died in a rollover accident Saturday as Daniel M. Riley, of Nederland.
Riley was driving in Boulder Canyon when his Isuzu Rodeo went off the road near mile marker 27 on Highway 119, said Colorado State Patrol Sgt. John Hahn.
"It struck the mountain and got bounced back into the traffic lane and rolled over. He wasn't belted in and was ejected," Hahn said.
Riley was declared dead at the scene. Speed may have played a part in the accident, Hahn said.
- Tom McGhee/The Denver Post