National Murder Case, Cartel Busts, Elections and Development Fever Cap The Past Year
~ by Trevor Phipps, Bob Volpe and Rick Langenberg ~
As we conclude our final toasts in bidding good-bye to 2019 throughout 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.
Murder Case Hits National Stage
Without question, the saga surrounding the horrific killing of Kelsey Berreth and the conviction of her former fiance, Patrick Frazee, grabbed the spotlight as the premier news story of 2019. Once, again, Teller County snagged national attention for a tragic event.
When Kelsey Berreth was first reported missing in late 2018, there were many speculations suggesting that the local mother of a young child “Just ran off.” But then towards the end of 2018 the police made an arrest and announced publicly that they did not believe Berreth was alive.
Once 2019 started, everyone knew that Berreth’s former fiancée and father of her child, Patrick Frazee was being blamed for murder but all of the arrest and search warrant affidavits were kept private. But then in February 2019 a preliminary hearing exposed all of the brutal details of the murder of the young local mother. A state of shock ignited throughout the region and nation.
When the preliminary hearing occurred last winter, information circulated that Frazee had a mistress, Krystal Lee and that he solicited her help and tried to get her to commit the murder three times before he decided to do the dirty deed himself. And it was released publicly that he killed his fiancée at the time by brutally beating her over the head with a baseball bat inside her own Woodland Park home. Even though her body was never found, enough evidence was presented to charge Frazee for first-degree murder and related offenses. The case against Frazee accelerated too with a plea deal the DA’s office reached with Lee, requiring her to testify against the Florissant rancher
Following a number of delays, the trial then started in late October and even more, details came out. Towards the end of the trial, a witness (who was Frazee’s former cellmate) took the stand and said that Frazee tried to get him to murder all of the witnesses in the case.
It seemed as if the testimony of Frazee’s cellmate was the icing on the cake that convinced the jury to reach a guilty verdict. After an unprecedented short deliberation time of around three hours, the jury of Frazee’s Teller County resident peers chose to find him guilty of all of the six felonies he was being charged with which included a first-degree murder felony conviction.
Frazee was sentenced right after his verdict was read and the convicted murderer who once called Teller County his home has been sent down south to the state pen in Canon City to serve his well-deserved life without parole plus 156-year sentence behind bars. He was recently sent to another prison near Ordway.
Lee will face her sentencing at the end of January 2020.
Sheriff Squares Off With ACLU and Governor’s Office
The county sheriff department’s stand in supporting the federal campaign against illegal immigration also captured many headlines.
At the beginning of the year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) dropped their lawsuit against Teller County for holding a suspect (that was arrested for minor gaming-related charges) because of a detainer sent to them from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE agency.
After Teller County’s win, the sheriff decided to get involved in the 287g federal program. The program deputized local sheriff’s deputies as officers that could legally enforce federal immigration laws at the jail in Divide. Teller was the only sheriff department in Colorado that partook in the program.
This move by the county prompted state legislators to draft a bill that made it illegal for local municipalities to form contracts with federal immigration entities. This state effort was dubbed as across as the “Anti-Teller Bill,” and created a tense relationship between the sheriff department and the governor’s office. TMJ News also had their differences with the governor’s office. After the bill that was pushed into law by state legislators came , the ACLU filed another lawsuit against the Teller County Sheriff’s Office.
The new lawsuit claims that the county had violated the state constitution and the new recently passed anti-ICE law. Teller sheriff Jason Mikesell filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit but this legal battle is still ongoing.
Teller’s War On Drugs and Sheriff Expansion
In 2018, Teller County started their “Get Out of Teller” campaign that worked towards exterminating those that illegally grew marijuana within the county. Then in 2019, the county launched the Teller County Narcotics Team or TNT which consists of members from every local law enforcement agency including a few folks that represent federal agencies like the DEA and FBI.
The development of the first collaborative drug force group in the area led to a couple of new drug busts. In March, the county took down a hash lab in Florissant that was brought to the attention of police by an illegal marijuana extract lab being located outside on the back porch of a local residence. During the bust, $70,000 worth of THC concentrates were found as well as plenty of evidence suggesting the rental home was used for the manufacture and sales of illegal narcotics.
Then during August, TNT foiled an illegal father and son drug manufacturing operation. After conducting a legal search warrant, TNT found out that the pair was growing and illegally selling marijuana out of state.
The sheriff’s office was also in the news frequently for their plans to develop an extensive $7.2 million expansion of their current headquarters in Divide. The new facility, which broke ground at the end of the year, will encompass a 15,000-square-foot area, three times the size of their current facility. It will include such amenities as a coroner’s office, modern new spaces for command operations, dispatch, expanded 911 capabilities, administration and volunteer services. The project is being designed by Keystones Associates, Inc., which spearheaded the nearly $1 million Town Hall facility in Green Mountain Falls.
The sheriff expansion capped a record-breaking 2020 budget that nearly hit the $40 million mark. The county also allowed for an increase in salaries for sheriff deputies and officers to compete with neighboring agencies.
Roller Coaster Year For Downtown Development Authority .
The Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA) had an up and down year throughout 2019.
The DDA and city council have a long history of being at odds with each other. This year was no exception. Last January, the DDA sent an amendment to city council for approval, aimed changing the wording of the original Woodland Station Disposition and Development Agreement drafted in 2009. The 2009 contract stipulates that, “the DDA will transfer the property to a developer or developers for no cash consideration but for fair value.” The amendment would allow the DDA to receive monetary value for the Woodland Station property, which marks a changes from certain past policies.
Throughout much of 2019, the fate of Woodland Station was still unknown. The DDA held what was supposed to be a series of information gathering workshops to see what the community wanted done with the property. The first meeting ended in chaos. Unfortunately, due to low turnout and what DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen described as “A train wreck” the other three workshops were canceled. The DDA political soap opera continued for months.
In June tensions rose again between council and the DDA. Council proposed a controversial ordinance (ordinance 1348) which would have stripped some power from the DDA. At the center of this ordinance is a provision that would eliminate the DDA’s design and review committee. At the June 26, council meeting the ordinance was read on initial posting and was defeated by a vote of 4-3.
But alas, the fortunes of the DDA begin to turn toward the positive. Two developers came forward with proposals to develop Woodland Station. Developers George Christian and Mark Weaver gave presentations to the DDA board on their visions for the future of the property. One of the projects calls for a commercial building he calls Tava House. The project includes an event center, commercial space, restaurant, and a culinary school. With any luck the project will begin construction in June of 2020.
Finally, to end the year on an even more positive note, the DDA received one of the cog railroad cars from the Broadmoor. The car was installed recently on the upper tier of Woodland Station.
Housing Showdowns and Too Many Deer
Future housing developments once again became a big issue in Woodland Park, with Not In My Backyard fights escalating in a pronounced manner.
Last summer, the city experienced what was perhaps the most contentious issue to come before elected leaders. The Tamarac Village manufactured homes project, located off Hwy. 67, in Woodland Park was debated long and hard by opponents who claimed the project was nothing more than a high end trailer park. Opponents began mobilizing and organizing against the project when it was just a rumor in the early part of the year. By June the project passed muster with the city planning commission and the opposition began showing up in force at council meeting to try and stop the project. Ultimately, the project was approved by council due in part to the fact that it met with zoning standards, and to deny the project would have brought legal action against the city. The project did, however, spur the city into reviewing zoning standards to deal with future projects of this kind.
The saga of Tamarac Village did not end with the council’s approval of the project. In November, the council was informed by the Colorado Department of Transportation that the city would be on the hook for turn lane improvements to Hwy. 67 at the entrance to the project. The total cost of the improvements is estimated to be $750,000, which will be partially offset by the developers of the Tamarac project. As a result, to meet the necessary funds, improvements to city streets scheduled to be done in 2020 will be put off so the city can fund the bi-directional turn lane at those intersections. Those scheduled city street improvements will now be rescheduled for 2021.
Besides the Tamarac Village, the council struggled with the perceived infestation of too many deer in the city. At a council meeting in June, Parks and Wildlife Officer Tim Kroenig gave a presentation on the issue. Kroenig’s assessment was that the deer population in city limits is increasing. As a result, council appointed a task force to investigate the means of controlling the deer population. The task force findings were split between proponents of a controlled hunt and non-lethal population controls. In the end, the issue was kicked down the road for later action.
Going to the Dogs
The issue of creating a dog park in Woodland Park was first proposed in September of 2018, but encountered many delays in finalizing a location. The concept of a dog park was well received, but leaders, residents and city officials and project proponents differed over where it should be housed. But with great persistence and patience, head dog park
proponent Bianca Bryant, a Woodland Park student doing a girl scout project, finally saw her vision of a dog park in the city come to fruition in June of 2019. The dog park opened at Meadow Wood Park on June 1, 2019, following a big community fund-raising drive. It marked the first official dog park in the area.
Personnel and Council Shakeup
The city started kicked off 209 off with mostly housekeeping issues, but the first issue of importance to come before the council was the selection of a full-time city attorney. Jason Meyers, who worked in Fort Morgan, was hired in late January to become the first full-time city attorney in decades. This marked a big change in how the city operated i the legal arena. The change was advocated by City Manager Darrin Tangeman. For years, the city conducted its legal services through a contract arrangement, a system used by most municipalities and county governments of a similar size.
Meyers was selected from a field of three prospective applicants for the position. Meyers’s salary is $117,000 a year plus city benefits. Meyer’s replaced part-time attorney Erin Smith who served the city for 16 years. Smith, who represents a number of Colorado municipalities, including Cripple Creek. She played a big role in the city’s approval of the Walmart center and in some unusual legal fights with Teller County.
The council also encountered some changes. In late October long time, city council member Carrol Harvey abruptly resigned from the council. Harvey was a pillar in the community and on the state level for decades. In fact, she was a key leader of a previous charter review committee and had served as a previous mayor pro tem. Harvey gave no official reason for leaving. But after the contentious meetings during the deer task force meetings that she chaired she had apparently had enough. Harvey’s position was recently filled by Darwin Naccarato, another long time civic leader. This is one seat that will be contested in the upcoming city election.
Local Sports Teams Post Vastly Improved Records
During 2019, the Woodland Park High School football team had an amazing start! For the first time in years they started their season looking like they could be playoff contenders. Even though the whole playoff thing didn’t end up working out for the Panthers, they were actually able to earn a winning record which was a good improvement from their horrible 2018 season.
The Woodland Park High School Volleyball team also improved from their stellar 2018 season and had an even more impressive year. The girls went undefeated during conference play and won their league for the first time since the 1990’s. However, despite their good season and earning the right to host the regional competition for the second year in a row, the Lady Panthers once again lost during the regional tournament which eliminated them from competing in the state playoffs.
The Woodland Park High School cheerleaders also accomplished more than just firing up Panther fans this year. For the first time in the high school’s history, the WPHS cheer team got invited to the state finals. Then, the local spirit squad took fourth place state-wide in Colorado’s 4A Co-Ed Cheerleader competition.
Now, the sad sports moments of 2019. During the 97th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC), nationally famous motorcycle racer Carlin Dunne passed away during a run-up “America’s Mountain” that would have broken speed records. The death marked the seventh life the race up the local fourteener has taken, and the third one since 2012 that involved a courageous motorcyclist since the highway has been paved.
After the death of the famous motorcycle racer, PPIHC officials made an unexpected move to prevent more deaths during the race up the peak. Shortly after the famous race’s 97th running, the board that runs the race decided to eliminate motorcycle racing up the high mountain in 2020 and until further notice.
Year In Review, Part 2
Place Your Sports Bets
The city of Cripple Creek emerged as another big gambling winner, following the elections of 2019.
Although it was a closer tally than expected, Colorado voters said yes to the idea of allowing licensed casino operators in Cripple Creek, Black Hawk and Central City to showcase professional sports betting action at their establishments. The vote occurred after a big lobbying campaign, with the decision to put the issue on the state and local ballots. The majority of the revenue generated will go towards the state in dealing with a water plan. The sports betting action, aimed at offering another entertainment option for local visitors and gamblers, is expected to get underway in the spring and summer of 2020. It is still unclear how this will impact local casinos and the city of Cripple Creek.
The elections of 2019 also amounted to a victory for the current status quo administration in Cripple Creek, with former elected leader Milford Ashworth winning a convincing victory over Councilwoman Meghan Rozell. Ashworth was a big proponent of the current administration, while Rozell wanted to challenge what she described as the town’s ‘good ol’ boy system.’ Regardless of the outcome, the election had big consequences as it marked the first time the town elected a new mayor in 10 years. Term limits came into play with Mayor Bruce Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Chris Hazlett being forced to step down. Hazlett was replaced by Charles Solomone, and Tom Litherland won another term as a Ward Four representative.
But the status quo system didn’t fare so well in the Cripple Creek/Victor RE-1 School
District, with voters deciding to oust veteran board president Tim Braun in a recall vote, and replace him with long-time resident Mary Bielz. The school board election featured the most competitive slate in recent years.
Marketing and Theater Shakeup
Cripple Creek in 2019 once again found itself engaged in a big debate over marketing and theater operations. The town parted ways with head marketing and special events chief Steve Kitzman, following a July 4th snafu over the city’s highly celebrated Independence Day fireworks show. This highly advertised display didn’t occur on the scheduled day of July 4 due to a mix-up, and never materialized until the weekend. City officials were bombarded with complaints and fuming over this development. As a result, they opted to take a new direction in their marketing lineup, terminating Kitzman and his prime assistant.
Based on past trends, this type of move was business as usual for Cripple Creek. Since the advent of gaming, the town has had more than 10 marketing directors, and has explored a variety of different promotional pursuits. Following the exit of Kitzman, the town picked a
new marketing advisory committee and selected an interim director, Jeff Mosher. Mosher was a big player in the Pikes Peak region, promoting Olympic competitions, the Pikes Peak Marathon and other key sporting events. He wants to market Cripple Creek more as a recreation and adventure hub. By the end of the year, Mosher got the nod as the permanent marketing and special events director.
Then, in early September, the town entered another chapter of theater wars. In a decision that shocked many residents, the city parted ways with the Butte Theater Foundation, abruptly cancelling their lease and fiscal contract for the following year. The Foundation oversaw the Butte operation for the last two years.
This opened the door for the return of the Thin Air Theatre Company, which did shows at the Butte previously for 10 years. It also paved the way for the return of Butte manager Mel Moser to the stage. Moser was often considered the area’s premiere actor who put the Butte on the regional theater map.
However, the move sparked a war of words between the Foundation, which was pursuing an ambitious Butte expansion program, and the city. The city, though, did follow in the footsteps of the Foundation slightly and decided to buy the adjacent Star building. The deal was scheduled to close last week.
Lodging Boom Moves Ahead
Cripple Creek’s perspective lodging boom, expected to provide another 500-plus room, continued to snag top attention in 2019, with city officials touting this as an important step towards carving a niche as a touring destination area The Triple Crown Casinos firmed up their plans for a $40 million hotel expansion, and plans moved ahead for the nearly $100 million, four-star hotel and parking garaged planned by Bronco Billy’s.
However, the casino that made the actual jump into actually constructing a project was the Wildwood, which officially broke ground on a $14 million, 100-plus-room hotel expansion in June. The project is expected to be completed in late 2020. And last week, the Wildwood succeeded in gaining additional approvals for a road vacation and the rezoning of adjacent property to the new hotel, which could facilitate their lodging project.
And in a related issue, the city and the town of Victor last fall finalized a $70,000 affordable housing study with outside consultants, aimed at addressing the current lack of workforce dwelling units for casino employees and other workers.
Green Mountain Falls
Can Someone Please Take This Job
Green Mountain Falls underwent a frustrating process of selecting a head town manager. The town hosted a variety of “meet and greet” public sessions with prospective town managers throughout much of 2019.
Only one problem with these folksy get-togethers: no one accepted the job. In fact, the town fielded top candidates from Salida, Boulder County, and even Florida. These finalists included Emily Katsimpalis, who now works as the finance director for Woodland Park; Kyle Coleman, the assistant manager of the village of Estero, Florida and Karen Gerrity, the administrator for Nederland. All three of these choices struck out, even after conducting friendly gatherings with local residents.
Then, finally, the town selected Angie Sprang, who worked with Carbondale as a policy and management analyst, in late August. She began her duties in mid-September. Several months ago, Sprang, the trustees and Clay Brown, the regional director for the state
Department of Local Affairs, conducted a lengthy workshop to discuss short and long-term goals. As one of her first major new moves, the new town manager sought to slice the town’s public meeting schedule in half to provide more efficiency for volunteers and staff members. This move, though, could confront its first major test early next year, as town leaders grapple with proposed annexation plans for nearly 32 acres, encompassing commercial development, open space and trail uses. This plan could spark much discussion.
Road Horror Show Continues
Green Mountain Falls’ tough bout with road improvements continued non-stop in 2019 as regular meetings often turned into maintenance gripes.
Dealing with the town’s infrastructure woes was a common theme in the town’s new $100,000 comprehensive plan, completed last summer, and during the town manager “meet and greet” forums. Plus, some residents complained that the town was getting the short end of the stick in efforts to improve one of the town’s main thoroughfares, in a contract with El Paso County. This has even fueled some talks about becoming de-incorporated. But to date, no action has occurred in efforts to possibly pull the town government plug, mainly due to the potential expenses and fear of losing services.
Even with these problems, construction continued in 2019 on a new fire station for the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire Protection District, adjacent to the GMF Town Hall.
Other notable stories of 2019
*The city of Woodland Park’s annual budget and its huge debt payment for the Woodland Aquatic Center
*The expansion of Andrew Wommack Ministries in Woodland Park, and its decision to complete the purchase of the Sturman property.
*The joint venture of Newmont Goldcorp Mining Corporation, making it the largest gold company in the world, and how this affects the Cripple Creek/Victor district and a potential underground operation.
*The announcement of candidates for the Teller County commissioner races for 2020.
*The decision of the Manitou Springs City Council to not accept the appropriation of sales tax funds, approved by the voters, to benefit the arts, the library and other cultural pursuits.
*The activities of the Main Street group in Woodland Park.
*The possible end of Minor League Baseball in the Pikes Peak region.