Monarch Mountain, sheriff: Attempted sex assaults not kept from public | SummitDaily.com

Monarch Mountain, sheriff: Attempted sex assaults not kept from public

Jesse Paul
The Denver Post

The Chaffee County Sheriff's Office and Monarch Mountain are defending themselves against allegations they failed to publicize two attempted sex assaults at the ski area in an effort to not scare away holiday visitors.

The attempted assaults were reported over a two-week span starting last month and not made public until the sheriff's office distributed a press release on Friday.

"We all feel vulnerable," said Miki Hodge, a frequent Monarch visitor who lives in Salida and has been outspoken about her anger at the lack of publicity. "We're the backbone of that resort."

The first attempted assault happened on Dec. 19 at the ski area located about 20 miles west of Salida on U.S. 50 off Monarch Pass. The date of the second incident has not been released.

The resort has not made its own announcement about the incidents to skiers and riders.

"We did not inform patrons at the resort when the information was released," said Jessie Smith, a spokeswoman for the ski area. "We left the distribution of the information to the sheriff's office, it being their investigation."

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"Public safety is always our number one concern," said Undersheriff John Spezze, calling the idea that information was withheld "totally erroneous."

Authorities say the suspect rode the lift with the victims — both teen girls — then followed them down a ski run to a point where he forced them into the trees and tried to sexually assault them. In the second attempted assault, the suspect fired a handgun in an effort to coerce the victim to cooperate.

Both victims were able to escape physically unharmed.

The suspect was described as a white, teenage male, approximately 5 feet 8 inches to 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 140 pounds. He is believed to have red hair and possibly freckles on his face.

"I'm disappointed," one woman commented on Facebook. "My 16-year-old has been going up often during the break and she and I both would have appreciated a heads up."

Spezze, who takes over as sheriff this month, responded to the community frustration on Salida's KSBV radio station on Monday afternoon, saying he feels investigators are close to making an arrest.

"The fact of the matter is on the first assault we didn't have enough to put anything out (to the public)," Spezze said.

The resort says it in no way withheld information in an effort to boost ticket sales, adding that their "interest is this investigation is in catching the suspect and preventing this from happening again."

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