Murder Cases, Pot/Cartel Busts, Natural Disasters, and Development Fever Highlight the Local News
~ by Rick Langenberg ~
As we concluded our final toasts in bidding good-bye to 2018 early this week, here is a synopsis of some of the top news stories and trends that dominated the pages and web-social media postings of TMJ during the last year.
Nope, Teller County won’t ever win any awards for serious homicide cases.
But the county’s trend of enduring another year without a notable murder screeched to a halt at the close of 2018. The disappearance of Woodland Park resident of Woodland Park, last seen at the Safeway shopping center with her child on Thanksgiving Day, resulted in a national pursuit that put the Woodland Park Police in the national spotlight. Unfortunately, the case ended in an apparent tragedy with the arrest of Berreth’s fiancé, Patrick Frazee, for first-degree murder and solicitation of first-degree murder. At the press deadline for TMJ, Berreth’s body has still not been found, but authorities believe she was killed at her Woodland Park home.
Still, the case has generated more questions than answers, with a district judge last week deciding to keep the arrest affidavits sealed. Look for more developments throughout 2019, including a possible murder trial.
But the Berreth disappearance wasn’t the only murder case to make national news. The closing chapter of the Jacob Ind saga hit center stage at the end of 2018. Ind was accused of killing Pam and Kermode Jordan, his mother and stepdad, in mid-December 1992 at their Woodland Park home. At the time, Ind was only 15-years-old, and claimed the killings were part of self-defense actions due to years he suffered from physical, verbal and sexual abuse, at the hands of his parents. He was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life behind bars with no chance of parole. Since his incarceration, Ind has served pretty much as a model prisoner. And in 2017, he was granted a retrial; then in November, a plea agreement was reached with prosecutors, which could lead to his immediate release from jail. Recently, a highly emotional hearing was held in Cripple Creek, pitting Ind’s supporters against those of the murder victims.
A final sentencing decision is expected shortly by Fourth Judicial District Judge Lin Billings Vela
Natural Disaster Strike With A Vengeance
The last year was a brutal time in the high country for natural disasters, running the gamut from super dry spells and fire bans, to a flurry of catastrophic blazes and floods.
As a result, residents were left on the edge for much of the year, and had to make preparatory plans to evacuate. A record heat spell throughout the winter and spring of 2018 led to some of the strictest fire bans since the Hayman blaze of 2002.
Disaster then struck with the High Chateau fire in the Four Mile area in the early summer that scorched thousands of acres and prompted a slew of neighborhood evacuations. The fire did cause a number of significant losses and posed a tough blaze to fight.
But on the upside, the response to the fire was heavily praised, along with the cooperation among a variety of agencies. The Teller County commissioners estimated the cost of the fire at more than $250,000. Even with the property loss and heavy price tag, the cooperative fight against the fire was labeled as a big success. Elected leaders noted that the fire’s devastating impacts could have been much worse, if this level of cooperation among residents, firefighters and law officers didn’t occur. Authorities succeeded in catching the youths responsible for the fire that left a campfire unattended.
But this was just the beginning of a time of memorable disasters. When the rains finally arrived last summer they came at an unrelenting pace. The town of Green Mountain Falls was devastated by an invasion of Fountain Creek flood waters, destroying bridges, culverts and washing out all roads, and even leaving some residents with no real access to their properties. The floods could not have occurred at a worse time for GMF, which already was experiencing big road woes. In addition, parts of downtown Manitou Springs was devastated once again, as were parts of the lower Ute Pass. The communities lost a bid to receive monies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, GMF did snag an assistance grant from the state Department of Local Affairs.
Get Out Of Town By Sundown
Near the end of 2017, Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell announced plans to launch a major crackdown against illegal marijuana grow operations, with new laws that limit how many cannabis plants a homeowner can have.
Law enforcement leaders even equated their campaign to “Get Out of Teller,” in a warning to those pursuing major for-profit illegal marijuana grow operations in rural parts of the county. Media outlets, including TMJ, even referred this to the “Get Out Of Town by Sundown” effort.
So in 2018, law officers made it clear they meant business. The first nine months of 2018 was dominated by almost weekly busts of major cannabis grow operations, many of which were armed with special equipment and with ties to drug cartels. Officers seized millions (of street value worth) in illegal cannabis, in a campaign that occurred throughout Teller and El Paso counties. In many cases, out-of-town suspects were arrested. Unfortunately, due to the big money involved in this black market marijuana trade, many of these suspects bonded out of jail, only hours after getting arrested. Still, the campaign launched by the sheriff’s department received strong support by elected leaders and paved the way for a task force.
This trend brought one new reality to Teller County: Our rural burg is no longer isolated from felony crimes. Virtually all the law enforcement agencies got bombarded with big spikes in crimes and incidents, including drug and drunk-driving cases, domestic violence, assaults and burglaries. The Cripple Creek Police Department, for example, grappled with nearly 12,000 calls and incidents throughout the first 10 month of the year.
Development Fever Strikes
The last year amounted to a boom time for mega development plans and pursuits.
The Charis Bible College and Andrew Wommack Ministries, located in Woodland Park, completed the next phase of their unprecedented $150 million-plus expansion and overall development, with the opening of a 3,000-plus-seat auditorium with state-of-the-art technology. This served as a hub for Charis’ many theatrical productions for hosting major seminars with nationally-known Christian evangelical sports celebrities and politicians, such as Tony Dungy and Mike Huckabee. The Charis Bible College also made more efforts to involve the community in their programs. In addition, Woodland Park became the home of the corporate headquarters for Andrew Wommack Ministries, bringing several hundred more AWM employees to the area. Plans are also in the work for housing at the AWM development.
In other big development pursuits, Woodland Park landed a new Natural Grocers outlet, in a prime site off Hwy. 24. The health store chain cited Woodland Park as a prime market, and pursued their plans, despite getting rejected by the Downtown Development Authority from receiving any tax incentives.
Plus, Peak Internet announced the acquisition of former government buildings, once occupied by Teller County and previously owned by the state, as part of plans for a new corporate headquarters. Peak has embarked on a huge expansion effort and hopes to serve a 30,000 customer base in the future.
And in Cripple Creek, the idea of featuring a destination area, became much more than talk. Two of the major casino players, Bronco Billy’s and Triple Crown, unveiled big plans for big hotels and expansions that combined could nearly hit the $150 million development level. The owners of Bronco Billy’s, Full House Resorts, kicked off this push with a $70 million-plus proposal, calling for a six-story hotel and mega-garage. In order to make the project a reality, they had to obtain a project of special merit designation. This bid generated much controversy and even a legal challenge.
But in the end, Billy’s succeeded, as many long-time residents argued that it’s time Cripple Creek moves into the next era of development. Then in late November, the Triple Crown Casinos proposed a possible $40 million hotel expansion, featuring 150 rooms and many amenities. The plans face a review by the historic preservation commission this Friday (see related story)
These projects are just part of the growing surge for more lodging and amenities, as Cripple Creek strives to become more of a several-day tourist, gaming destination area. Within the next few years, the town could feature more than 500 additional lodging rooms.
In local casino action, the industry had another successful year, but continued to operate with fewer gaming devices and games, a trend that poses a challenge for the city government. But near the end of the year, the gaming community celebrated the birth of the first new casino in years, with the Christmas Casino & Inn at Bronco Billy’s. The casino project, which culminated a revival of the old Imperial property, highlights a Christmas-theme,365 days of the year, patterned after some of the major Yuletide displays in Germany. Live reindeer were even showcased near the hotel entrance.
Elections of 2018 Spark Wild Times
No year is complete in Teller County without election controversies and heated votes.
The city of Woodland Park had quite a divisive municipal election, capped by a huge mayoral showdown
between incumbent Neil Levy and Councilman Levy won this battle, but Carr was picked as the mayor pro tem. And for the first time in recent memory, the council had three women members, with newly-elected leaders Kellie Case and Hilary LaBarre joining veteran member Carrol
Harvey on the panel.
And similar to what happened in Cripple Creek in 2017, one of the council seat elections ended in an exact dead heat; which yes (believe it or not) had to be determined by a card drawing. Noel Sawyer edged past John Schafer by drawing a King of Hearts to beat John Schafer. The new council lineup featured a much different outlook that the previous group, with the new leaders requested a nearly 20 percent reserve fund in the 2019 budget.
The election season hit another peak during the November elections with the first-ever contested fight for treasurer (at the general election level). This one featured a battle between unaffiliated contender Betty Clark-Wine and Republican nominee Mark Czelusta. Czelusta won by a substantial margin, but not before a spirited campaign was waged by Clark-Wine. The Republicans fared well locally, but took a big hit across the state, with Democratic contenders winning every key seat and all branches of the state government falling into Democratic control.
The election, though, marked the success of several key local ballot issues, namely a sales tax increase for the local Woodland Park ambulance district and the success of an occupational tax in Green Mountain Falls.
New Government Lineups and Familiar Soap Operas
The 2018 year ended with most area municipalities boasting of new city bosses. This is the first time in recent memory that this many new city managers/administrators have arrived in the same year.
The city of Woodland Park selected Darrin Tangeman as their new head manger, replacing David Buttery, who retired in April. Tangeman, a former military veteran, sports much government experience in Pueblo.
Green Mountain Falls, meanwhile, operated with Jason Wells, the former city administrator of Manitou Springs, as their interim boss. And the Cripple Creek City Council picked Mark Campbell, who actually hails from Northern Ireland, as their head honcho. Campbell previously served as the top boss for Kremmling, Colorado, near Steamboat Springs. The selection of a new city administrator in Cripple Creek occurred after the resignation of Ray DuBois. Former City Administrator Ray White then acted as the interim boss for about six months.
And yes, no year is complete in Teller without good old-fashion soap opera-level politics. The Downtown Development Authority meetings continued to serve as prime entertainment. Some suggested that the group offer cocktails for these grand occasions, except these sessions occur at 7:30 in the morning. The DDA’s internal politics, capped by the ongoing controversy over its prime development holding, Woodland Station, was the center of contentious lawsuit. This suit ended as a partial victory for Arden Weatherford, who owns BierWerks, and contended he was entitled to free land at the Woodland Station for a previously proposed project and contract. He didn’t get the land, but he was offered more than $100,000 in compensation.
Both sides were calling the ruling a victory for their interests. DDA leaders were happy with the ruling, in many ways, at it allowed them to continue to develop plans for Woodland Station, such as using the area for special events.
But at the close of the year, some big civic leaders, such as former mayor Steve Randolph, argued that Woodland Station should be turned over to the city and big board changes are needed with the DDA. These sentiments were partially shared by Mayor Neil Levy and Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank &Trust. A future meeting is scheduled to determine the fate of Woodland Station, which once served as the beacon of the town’s cowboy and rodeo culture
Other notable stories
*The continued mining activity of Newmont CC&V, including their new project just outside Cripple Creek.
*The efforts of the Woodland Park Main Street group and the first-year stint of the new Woodland Aquatic Center.
*The legal fight between the Teller County Sheriff’s Department and the ACLU over holding certain immigrant prisoners.
*The controversy over the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Cripple Creek, and the expansion plans of the Butte Theater.
*The continual emphasis in having special events in the Teller high country.
*The road woes in Green Mountain Falls and the push by some for having an unincorporated town.