Steamboat Springs Six years ago, when Robert Egizii purchased a condominium in the quiet ski town of Steamboat Springs, he never imagined it would be the target of a serious crime.
"I don't think anybody who buys a condominium anywhere would believe that it would happen," Egizii said of the Aug. 28 arson that caused about $2.2 million in damage to his unit and seven others.
What shocked the Springfield, Ill., man more than anything is his unit at The Ridge was purposely set on fire in a small ski town that officials believe is slowly losing its innocence.
Along with the city's first arson in years, authorities in 2000 also had to deal with a murder for the first time since 1993, a theft of an ambulance where a paramedic was assaulted and an investigation of a fellow law enforcement officer for child abuse.Six years ago, when Robert Egizii purchased a condominium in the quiet ski town of Steamboat Springs, he never imagined it would be the target of a serious crime.
These serious cases happened in a year where rapes, burglaries and thefts all increased from the year before, along with drug and drunken-driving arrests for the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
"We don't live in a vacuum," said Steamboat Springs Assistant Police Chief Art Fiebing. "Bad things are going to happen.
"Steamboat Springs is still a nice place to live. We have been effected with the culture of society because it has become more violent. We are feeling that like the rest of the country."
Although crime increased in 2000, the caseload for the 14th Judicial District Attorney's office in Steamboat Springs decreased by about 86 cases.
While misdemeanor, traffic and juvenile cases decreased, felony cases increased 23 percent.
In 1999, the three-prosecutor office handled 203 felony cases. In 2000, that number increased to 263.
An increase in felony cases is a concern for Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, who has been working in the office since 1987.
"The quantity and number of violent crimes has been increasing," St. James said. "In 2000, we had a homicide, an attempted murder and a number of stabbings."
St. James said he believes the trend of violent crimes began to surface in 1998 and 1999.
"I remember one of my first cases here was a burglary of a jewelry store," St. James said. "This had the town buzzing. It's uneventful now for something like that to happen.
"Folks around here have gradually got acclimated to seeing these type of violent crimes, reading about it and being victims."
Fiebing, who has lived in Steamboat for 23 years, can relate to St. James' experience.
In 1982, Fiebing started his law enforcement career working as a deputy in the Routt County Jail. He worked as a deputy for 12 years and has spent the past six years in the Steamboat department.
"When I started in 1982, I worked the graveyard jail shift," Fiebing said. "The most people we would have in jail would be two. The average jail population for the year was four.
"I think that is the best indication of how much things have changed. It was nothing like they are dealing with now."
According to Routt County Jail statistics, the county jail housed an average of 34 inmates per month last year. The average is a decrease from the year before when the jail averaged about 41 inmates per month.
Fiebing and St. James said they believe crime has increased through the years because of the area's increased population.
"This town is growing like crazy. You can't have an increased population without it affecting every aspect of your community. When people move here, not everyone is going to be an outstanding citizen. Criminals want to live in a nice place, too."
There has been overwhelming growth," St. James said. "There was a time when there was nothing happening in the summertime. It was like a ghost town. Now, there is no off-season."
St. James said he believes the growth of the town has attracted a transient population to fill jobs.
"There are a lot of people here on a temporary basis," he said. "Most of them are hard workers, hard drinkers and hard partyers. These people here do not have roots and ties to the community. They don't have our community values."
"Every year we see an increase in the number of thefts when the ski area closes," he said. "The transient population doesn't have a tie to the community. They have a tendency to want to take things and leave town."
Fiebing said he also believes that longtime residents need to take precaution in locking their doors to their homes and vehicles. He believes this could cut down on the number of burglaries and thefts that occur each year.
"People should lock houses and cars," he said. "It's common sense. They need to take preventive measures. This is a good town with good people, but if you give someone an opportunity, they are going to steal something from you."
Fiebing also contributes the increased number of people that get arrested each year to better law enforcement officers.
"The quality of law enforcement officers has improved 100 percent since I started here," Fiebing said. "When I started I had a badge, a gun and was told to enforce the law. Now, our officers go through an academy and a 16-week training program where every shift is evaluated. I think the community has gotten used to having good cops here."
St. James is hopeful the trend of violent crimes occurring in Steamboat Springs and Routt County will subside. If not, the office will continue to take a hard stance toward violent crime.
"This is not an office where this type of behavior is accepted," St. James said. "We will deal with it and deal with it appropriately. We will keep our community standards high."
To reach Gary E. Salazar call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org