Coronavirus ‘stress’ leads Aspen man to ‘cough’ in woman’s face
Pressure caused by the coronavirus, unemployment and social distancing led one local man to lose his temper Sunday and cough in the face of a woman who requested more social space on a local trail.
Tom Patierno, 34, of Aspen later admitted to police he “got in the woman’s face” and made at least a “coughing gesture” after she asked him to move over as they approached each other on the Rio Grande Trail, according to an Aspen Police Department report.
“I’m just so sick and tired of all these people and their paranoia,” Patierno told an Aspen police officer who asked why he confronted the woman, according to the report. “I just wanted to go for a walk with my friend and mind my own business, then these people told me that I had to move over for them.
“They didn’t have to say anything to me.”
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Patierno said he was sorry for his actions and knew he overreacted. He later told an officer who charged him with disorderly conduct that he was “stressed” from losing his job and “also just aggravated at how people are reacting during this crisis,” the police report states.
The incident occurred about 1 p.m. Sunday as the 68-year-old woman, her husband and a friend were walking down Rio Grande Trail and observing the recommended 6-foot social-distancing guidelines, the woman told police. She described Patierno as a “large man” and said he was walking in the middle of the trail as he approached with a female friend, according to the police report.
“Could you please just move over (and) give us some room,” the woman said she asked Patierno, the report states. “(She) said that when she said this, Patierno came up close to her, got in her face and intentionally coughed in her face.”
The woman said she was “very frightened by this incident and was very scared that she would get sick because of it,” according to the police report.
After admitting to his conduct, Patierno said the woman wasn’t the first person that day to call him out on his behavior.
“They probably got me at a bad time because about a minute before that some other lady yelled at me for smoking a cigarette outside,” he told police, the report states.
Patierno told police he would take a COVID-19 test if required, but didn’t want to if he wasn’t required to do so.
The victim later asked if Patierno had been “locked up” and said she would call Colorado’s governor “to find better answers” when an officer told her that wasn’t the procedure when someone was accused of breaking municipal laws, according to the police report.
“We acknowledge that this is a stressful time and there are mental health resources out there for people to take advantage of. In addition, communicating with people on the trails and outside should be at a heightened level in order for people to be fully aware you are behind them or passing them,” a city of Aspen spokesperson said Tuesday. “Our APD is taking this seriously and will arrest and write tickets for anyone violating social distancing and putting others in danger.”
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