Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall, right, works with administrative assistant Michelle Kuntz in his office Thursday. The sheriff acknowledges he is a "lightning rod" for controversy but defends his personnel decisions and work so far this year.

Photo by Brian Ray

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall, right, works with administrative assistant Michelle Kuntz in his office Thursday. The sheriff acknowledges he is a "lightning rod" for controversy but defends his personnel decisions and work so far this year.

Wall notes positive achievements, addresses perceptions

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— Some might balk at the label "controversial."

Not Gary Wall.

"I'm a lightning rod for sure," the Routt County Sheriff said recently.

Wall's most recent storm is an Oct. 27 traffic stop that resulted in the sheriff being cited for driving under the influence, among other charges. Wall has refused to discuss the details of the incident, other than to dispute the charges. The reticence is part of a larger personality trait that Wall might describe as resolve.

Others have called it defiance. Still, others are simply trying to get a handle on a sheriff who has stirred frequent public debate since taking office in January.

Speaking in that office earlier this month, a dapperly dressed - as always - Wall discussed the positive changes he believes he has brought to the Routt County Sheriff's Office, told stories about his past lives as a sailboat racer and a restaurateur, and shed light on a sheriff who - in a profession where privacy is fiercely guarded - is as engaging as he is brash.

Wall is a self-described "news junkie" and an insatiable reader. He doesn't mince words and doesn't censor his language. His office showcases pictures of President Gerald Ford and Hunter S. Thompson - Wall counts both as friends and claims to have spent time with Thompson on the Las Vegas trip that the late author and self-described "gonzo journalist" famously sensationalized in his book, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Wall does not shy away from his colorful past.

"I'm the same way I was in my 20s," said Wall. "I am who I am. : I've been controversial forever."

From the ground up

Despite winning 55 percent of the vote in last year's election, Wall, a Democrat, doesn't believe he had any initial support within the Sheriff's Office, or from local law enforcement in general.

But since taking office and instituting changes, Wall believes he has won over his department. Sheriff's Office investigators Mike Curzon and Ken Klinger did not support Wall during the election. But Curzon and Klinger, a staunch Republican and party-line voter, now firmly back their boss.

"A lot of us were not Gary Wall supporters," Klinger said. "But you look at the things that have changed here, and it's hard not to be a supporter."

Former jailer Ryan Faulkner has a different take on Wall, whom Faulkner described as "cavalier." Faulkner worked at the Sheriff's Office for 16 months before resigning earlier this year. He said he resigned due to Wall's tireless questioning of his integrity following a fight among inmates in the jail that went unnoticed.

"It was a fight," Faulkner said. "We missed it. They wouldn't let it go."

Faulkner said the fight occurred on a busy Friday night in the thinly staffed jail. Once discovered, Faulkner said all the detention deputies followed procedure and had the incident investigated by patrol deputies, who he said determined it was a typical jailhouse fight and that, typically, the inmates were not going to testify against each other.

Nonetheless, Faulkner said, "Gary was so concerned about this fight and us missing it he literally investigated a few of us until we resigned. : He's so worried about his liabilities; he doesn't care about his employees.

"Gary Wall is only worried about his own skin and does not care about the employees whose livelihood is being threatened."

Novel approach

Wall won't discuss the details of his personnel decisions, except to say that he now has a more secure workforce.

"We have stabilized this organization," Wall said. "And that's what I wanted to do, because it costs us a fortune to train people."

Wall's personnel decisions have drawn criticism from the start, when he chose not to swear in previous Undersheriff Dan Taylor, Investigator Rachelle Redmond and Sgt. Dan Kelliher. Faulkner can count and list 18 departures in Wall's first 10 months, a number that could not be confirmed, but was not disputed, by Wall.

"I don't necessarily have an ax to grind, but I wish somebody would ask where everybody has gone," Faulkner said. "I think he's been running people off, and a lot of good people are losing their jobs because of it."

Klinger said Wall has raised Sheriff's Office morale to "an all-time high," due to efforts such as changing a payroll quirk to allow sheriff's deputies to start earning overtime pay at 40 hours, rather than 44.

"I asked that question for years, and it was done in a matter of weeks," Klinger said.

Curzon said the most profound change within the department is the sense of employee empowerment Wall has fostered. Curzon said the opinions of even the lowest-level staff members are asked and respectfully weighed in Wall's decision making.

"That's kind of novel - compared to previous years," Curzon said.

Commissioner clash

Some of Wall's most publicized controversies have come from butting heads with Routt County commissioners - such as when Wall requested to start his undersheriff, David Bustos, near the top of the department's pay scale despite Bustos' limited law enforcement experience. The commissioners denied that request.

Wall said requesting a higher wage for an employee is a positive choice, even though he lost. But County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Wall's stubbornness hurt his cause.

"From the very beginning, Gary did not interact with our personnel department," Stahoviak said. "Every time the sheriff has come and asked us for something : it seems like we have to ask more than once for information. : I can tell you after serving in this position for 15 years, when someone comes to me and asks for something, they have to give me the information to make the decision."

Policy issues arose with the commissioners shortly after Bustos was involved in a May 24 car accident in Vernal, Utah, while driving a county vehicle. Although the county's motor pool policy doesn't allow county vehicles to be used for personal use, Wall has encouraged his deputies to do so.

"It's been proven statistically that just the presence of a marked vehicle reduces crime," Wall said.

Klinger said the sheriff's office now has deputies on county roads "where I don't think they've gone in five years."

Wall also is working to purchase snowmobiles to increase the Sheriff's Office access to remote places in the winter, and winches to allow deputies to tow stuck cars out of dangerous situations. And the sheriff is fighting to achieve a round-the-clock service. There currently are no deputies on duty between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.

"This county has not had 24-hour coverage for years and years," Wall said. "I frankly think that's outrageous. I think that public safety in this county has been put on the back burner for years. Am I controversial for making a big stink about that? Maybe I am, but I think it's right."

It is unclear if and how Wall's recent DUI might create yet another clash with the county commissioners.

"He's innocent until proven guilty," Stahoviak said. "Once we know the circumstances, that's when we'll determine our involvement."

A sheriff's love

Jenny Wilson, who, like Wall, is a divorced parent of two grown children, has been Wall's girlfriend for two years.

"I like that he is comfortable in his own skin," Wilson said. "I like that he is authentic. I like that we like the same people. He doesn't like phony people. He likes real people, no matter what they do. He can smell a phony weasel a mile away.

"I feel pretty lucky that that's the kind of man I attracted, that I was good enough. I'm proud to be with him."

Before meeting Wall, Wilson said she was "totally naÃive" to life in the public eye. It's something she still has trouble with, and she admits to taking public criticisms of Wall personally. As such, Wall's most recent controversy has been especially trying.

"Last week was really horrible," Wilson said Monday. "I look for the silver lining in all things and certainly am in this situation. And I've already seen some results. You know who your friends are."

Wilson describes a Wall who few know. A Wall who cooks and gardens. A Wall who loves roses, photography and walking the dogs. Her Wall is lovable, not controversial. It's the Wall she wishes others would know.

Forever controversial

Wall found controversy in his very first job in law enforcement. As a 23-year-old officer with the Aspen Police Department, Wall was sued along with others for violating the civil rights of "hippies." Wall said the police department was encouraged by city officials to "run them out of town." Wall admits to intimidating hippies into relinquishing their rights and looking for ways to arrest them.

"I'm not proud of what I did back in those days, and that's why I'm so sensitive to it now," Wall said.

During lunch at the Old Town Pub & Restaurant, a day after five Steamboat Springs City Council candidates celebrated victories in Tuesday's election, Wall reflected on his own victory a year ago.

"It was a very happy occasion," Wall said Wednesday.

Since that celebratory night, Wall has made friends and enemies across the county, in public and private, through agreements and disputes.

Stahoviak said Wall's life in office will remain challenging going forward.

"The office of sheriff is the one that is most subject to citizens not being happy with what's going on," Stahoviak said. "It goes with the territory of that position."

Despite it all, and despite the controversy, Routt County's top law enforcement officer is as relaxed and confident as ever.

"I didn't expect it to be easy," Wall said. "I am happy. I don't regret it at all."

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

dundalk 6 years, 8 months ago

"It's been proven statistically that just the presence of a marked vehicle reduces crime," Wall said.

Gotta love it. So, it's of such a relief to know that Vernal, Utah can profit from our county owned vehicle being in their state, causing crime. Same for our omnipotent sheriff - nothing sits prettier than a sheriff's vehicle being pulled over for suspected DUI.

Does the double linguistic banter ever end?

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steamboatsprings 6 years, 8 months ago

Come on Gary. I just don't get it. As our lead county law enforcement officer how could you possibly not take a test to prove your innocence. This is a terrible example for our local kids and unconscionable for someone sworn to enforce our drinking and driving laws. It is great to have a good time over a few drinks but not at the expense of risking innocent lives when you get behind the wheel.

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dundalk 6 years, 8 months ago

He can smell a phony weasel a mile away....says his gal pal Jennifer Wilson.

Oh golly...and i thought being up so early on a Sunday morning was going to be dull.

Hey Jennifer, since he can smell a weasel a mile away, are we to presume he smells his own stench? Are you downwind?

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1234 6 years, 8 months ago

steamboatsprings, you said it ALL.and i mean ALL. thank you for your comment. boy you as up early to get that in,lol. but good job all the same!

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id04sp 6 years, 8 months ago

Sheriff Wall,

The most important thing you confessed is that you felt bad for helping run hippies out of town in violation of their rights. In my book, that regret qualifies you for the top job and is a welcome change from the way things used to be.

I cannot support drinking and driving, or violating state law by being intoxicated while in possession of a weapon, but I am also hoping that when the truth comes out, we find out that you were not violating the law. I think you care about the average person and don't care what your opponents think, and that takes courage. I know. Been there, done that, and got the unlawful court judgments on file to prove it.

Sheriff Warner's RCSO failed me and my family regarding two completely different matters. The first allowed a member of my family to be injured by a lawbreaker as a direct result of a deputy's negligence. The second put me in personal danger by failing to simply do the paperwork required to put a felon behind bars when he showed up for his indictment hearing. The RCSO advised me to carry a cell phone and a sidearm to defend myself while waiitng for them to show up in North Routt.

Good luck. I hope this turns out well for all of us.

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Hadleyburg_Press 6 years, 8 months ago

"It is unclear if and how Wall's recent DUI might create yet another clash with the county commissioners."

I didn't realize that Mr. Wall had been convicted. Does this paper have an editor or least a good lawyer. Shouldn't it read "suspected" DUI or "alledged" DUI? Historical poetic justice aside, even Mr. Wall is entitled to his rights until proven guilty in a court of law.

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wzstfu 6 years, 8 months ago

steamboatsprings - unless you have forgotten, as citizens of the United States of America - a person is PRESUMED INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty (sorry about the caps but these ridiculous statements are starting to get on my nerves). A little education of what exactly the laws are and what your rights as a citizen are would do you a lot of good.

It's incredibly sad to me to see how blinded by hate so many of you are. I always thought Steamboat Springs was a place of community - people sticking by each other. Instead, the pitchforks have come out and the witch hunt is in full swing. Most of you have already formed your opinion as to Wall's guilt and a Supreme Court decision on his innocence or a pardon from the Pope wouldn't be enough for you.

dundalk - is your life so miserable and pathetic that all you can do is spew hate. You have been on the rampage ever since Wall took office. And to the minions who hang on your every word - grow up and stop acting like sheep being led to slaughter. You people are what is wrong with Steamboat today.

I have a suggestion for all of you - pick up a copy of "The Art of Happiness" by the Dalai Llama (i am dead serious here). The amount of anger displayed in all of the posts on the topic of Gary Wall is disturbing. The fact that most of you are so willing to hang this man without any real proof is frightening. How about trying to channel all of your negativity into doing something positive. Find a hobby, get a life, go see a shrink. Do something to find whatever demons are plaguing you because Gary Wall is not the problem here.

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1234 6 years, 8 months ago

maybe he should of taken the test to prove his innocents? THAT IS BOTTOM LINE

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dundalk 6 years, 8 months ago

wzstfu:

My life, since you appeared so concerned (thank you) is full, and not an ounce of misery runs through my veins. Hell, I'd give you the shirt of my back, if you needed it. I simply choose to call things as I see them, and in my opinion, Gary Wall was and remains like a hoard of locust heading straight towards this pristine valley. I just carry loads of locust repellent.

On my bookshelf are numerous books from not only His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but also Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingram as well as Shakespeare, John Steinbeck and Profiles in Courage by JFK. It might surprise you know that I even have a copy of the Bible and the Torah. They sit nicely next to the obituaries for family and friends who have been murdered by people who drive drunk.

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stompk 6 years, 8 months ago

"Wall found controversy in his very first job in law enforcement. As a 23-year-old officer with the Aspen Police Department, Wall was sued along with others for violating the civil rights of "hippies." Wall said the police department was encouraged by city officials to "run them out of town." Wall admits to intimidating hippies into relinquishing their rights and looking for ways to arrest them."

Well, at least he's honest about this. He admits to intimidating hippies and looking for ways to arrest them.

Hippies, are citizens too Wall. You are to protect and serve all citizens, not just the ones with money to offer.

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Watcher 6 years, 8 months ago

I am simply amazed by Sheriff Stonewall and his stooges. While a supposedly impartial internal investigation is going on, this article is front page news. Major damage control. NOT!

I thought Klinger and Curzon were not going to let that fact that they were investigating their boss, a man who could fire them tomorrow if he so chose, keep them from being impartial as to the outcome of the investigation. WHAT THE HEY? And I quote "Its hard not to be a supporter." LOL I suppose that they have a bridge they would like to sell us, kind of like a pig in poke. (Or maybe a piggy in a poky, would be more like it.

Just how stupid do they all think we are.

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aufait 6 years, 8 months ago

wzstfu....thank you. thank you for showing me that there are still people in this valley that have their own mind. thank you for knowing that one is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. thank you for showing signs of humanity...... dundalk, stompk, watcher, 1234 and the rest of you self absorbed gods, put your money where your ignorant butts are and run for sheriff. you know you have to have a candidate if you do a recall, and you are all so intelligent and perfect. i try to stay away from these forums as i know there are the same few who (in all their wisdom) that bash the hell out of anyone who has actually put themselves out there to try and help in the public sector. mr. wall, from all i have seen and heard, you have done a great job thus far in your efforts to improve the rcso. i did not see you and have no first hand knowledge pertaining to your incident on 10-27, there fore i have no judgement on you or the case and i sincerely wish you the best. ms. wilson, good for you. i fear some of the people on this forum have no love or respect for anyone or anything.

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dundalk 6 years, 8 months ago

aufait: Bonsoir

I recommend a parfait to go with your au lait and dismay.

A la prochaine, Dundalk

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stompk 6 years, 8 months ago

aufait, I don't even need to address your post, to show who is ignorant.

Get a clue.

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Watcher 6 years, 8 months ago

aufait, Wall lost the presumption of innocence when he refused to take either a breathalyser or blood test. That was his perfect opportunity to show his innocence and now he will always be presumed guilty. And he knows that. He of all people should have known better. He is the perfect example of someone who is self destructive through his own actions. As the top law enforcement officer in the county he should insist on an outside investigation not a self serving and biased internal investigation by people he supervises. What a joke he has turned out to be.

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Benny 6 years, 8 months ago

Kudos to Ryan Faulkner (semper fi) for speaking out about his feelings towards the new sheriff. I wish the pilot would have more from Rachelle Redmond, Dan Kelliher, Ron Simms, Elise Bennett, Tammy Shupp, Jill Lindstrom, Jim Trotter, Elise Andres and any others that were pushed out of the sheriff's office in the last 11 months. It's always nice to get both sides of the story. It's nice to see that Mr. Faulkner's opinion was included in this article.

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1234 6 years, 8 months ago

aufait, you are a dork! and maybe you should not call people ignorant, until you listen to yourself! wall still did not take any of the test, what does that tell you.

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CoJustice 6 years, 8 months ago

aufait, Walls done a good job at what? Making sure his deputies have no credibility when citizens pull the same stunt on them, squandering his budget on attorney's fees, repair damage to under sheriff's vehicle, higher liability costs for personal vehicle use, possible DUI attorney fees, displaced employees, lost elder programs, lost childrens programs, legal opinion fees to fight with commissioners, lost cooperative effort with drug programs, and making sure his deputies have no enforcement power in the field?

Please do tell, a good job at what?

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Watcher 6 years, 8 months ago

Perfect timing on this humor article regarding bad raps.

www.usaweekend.com/07_issues/071111/071111humor-publicists.html

Sound familiar?

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below_me 6 years, 8 months ago

At this point , all I can do is feel sorry for Gary and his enablers. How sad.

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jmemcse 6 years, 8 months ago

Personally, I don't expect Wall to be perfect just because he holds public office. If any of you in this forum think you'd do a better job - have at it next election.

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Matthew Stoddard 6 years, 8 months ago

jm- Wall doesn't have to be perfect; he has to hold himself accountable to the same standards if he gets pulled over compared to the standards you or I get held to if we get pulled over. Wouldn't you agree to that?

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cantstanya 6 years, 8 months ago

So, as I was sitting in the local watering hole, I peered over at ole Gary Wall sitting there. I thought to myself, how dare you. Now hear me out. Here sits a guy who lives by principles and stands by his "rights".

First off, what right does he have to drive a vehicle given to him by the voters and then refuse to comply with a test of his breath or blood. So, a lot of you are saying, he is innocent until proven guilty. OK, but you see we, and I say we, the voters, will never know the whole story. How about this one, lets just say he had one drink or maybe 2, then wouldn't it be prudent to know whether he was impaired or under the influence? Or how about this one, when Gary got home why didn't he go to the hospital and get his own blood test?? So, we are forced to stand by and let this guy go on and on. Here he is writing his own policies, that are questionable at best and he condones, no he endorses his employees to drink while operating their county vehicle and of course they can refuse a test, as it is their right. So, will we be told the truth, and what exactly is the truth? I hear tell that the deputy that took Wall home that night was heard to say, he would have arrested Wall for DUI! Is that the case? Does the District Attorney or Special Prosecutor have this information and will this deputy is able to testify to the truth or will he worry about his job?

So, still a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of misleading information. Does the public have a right to it? I don't know, but I would think that the voters have a right to know what happened. Had Wall been in his own vehicle I think it would be different but the message is clear to at least his employees, refuse the test! Actually it is a message to the public, refuse the test, and then the paper will do a little PR article for you!

Which is my last point, Wall in his 20's? Honestly Gary, no one wants to hear about your work when you were in your 20's. They want answers to what happened on the night you were stopped. As a matter of fact, the median age for Steamboat is under 40 so I think most could care less about your police career 40 some odd years ago. Again, the people want to know, own up to what you did wrong and let's get down the road. At this point I think a lot of people could understand the situation however what is hard to understand is what you did wrong and your rights! It is time the voter's rights were not violated and that the truths come out!

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cantstanya 6 years, 8 months ago

Sorry, one more thing- so Gary you say you stabilzed the department. OK, everyone lets be honest, wouldn't you like to work where you'd have your own car without any costs! First off, no fuel, second, no plates to buy, third, no insurance and of course you can drive it where ever you want. I ask you, wouldn't you like that job too? I don't blame the employees, especially Klinger, who has better principles than this. However with these benefits who wouldn't support this guy?? Take a step back everyone, breath deep and think to yourself, is this right?

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stmbtnative 6 years, 8 months ago

This issue is a lot bigger the Wall and his complete lack of respect for the office he holds and the public he supposedly represents. It is sadly ironic that our teens are fighting underage drinking (see article Nov. 1) while our Sheriff fights DUI charges. If Wall cares so much about the public he was elected to serve as some suggest, you would hope we might see it in his actions at least once in his first year in office.

If he does lose his license, I hope the costs incurred for someone to drive him around come out of his pocket, not ours. I am sure it won't, but why not hope he becomes accountable for something.

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mindyourownbusiness 6 years, 8 months ago

It is a disgrace. Pure and simple. Gary, stand up and admit fault and put it to rest so we can go on and talk about something else.

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CoJustice 6 years, 8 months ago

Jmemcse: Interesting comment "If any of you in this forum think you'd do a better job have at it next election." So lets take a look at your recommendation.

1) You don't have to be qualified with your P.O.S.T certification, the tax payers will pay for that. 2) Your Under sheriff does not need to be certified, again the tax payers will pay for that. 3) You don't need to be good a letter writing, your attorney can do that for you, and yes, the tax payers will pay for it. 4) No qualified Under Sheriffs in Colorado, no problem, well look in UT, and yes regardless of qualifications well get him the best salary ever. 5) Don't need to be knowledgeable in policy writing, just copy & paste them. 6) The County Commissioners will be fiscally responsible for insurance, budgets, employee benefits, etc.

Running out of funds, no problem: 1) Go to the commissioners with a I am big-than-life attitude, and the boss of all Sheriffs in Colorado, and they will give me the funds. 2) Get rid of higher salary employees, and veteran officers (saves money). 3) Eliminate elder programs 4) Eliminate children's education programs.

You know what jmemcse, you are right! Anyone can be Sheriff.

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Benny 6 years, 8 months ago

Wow, when you put it all together like that, cojustice, it really makes a person's head spin.

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cordelia 6 years, 8 months ago

If the truth is really what you want, why not wait for it. It will come. Due process is what we all expect, and that is what is occuring. Instead of a rush to judgement, wait for the facts. If anyone has had a great experience being stopped by the State Patrol, speak up. It doesn't matter who you are or what your job is, you are entitled to due process. If George Bush isn't held to a higher standard than every citizen, why should a Routt County elected official be expected to do more? FYI...John Warner drove a County Vehicle at all times, including personal use. It was parked in his driveway every night of his service to the county. Many sheriff vehicles are parked all over Steamboat II, where many deputies live. City of Steamboat Springs Police vehicles pull into their home driveways everyday for lunch. This is not new. Sheriff Warner spent taxpayer funds conducting studies on speed limits on RCR 36. He spent weeks testing different speeds on that road and comparing the time it took to reach a certain location on that road at different speeds. He reported his findings to the Strawberry Park Group. There is a bumper sticker at the Bookstore saying,"Well behaved women never make history." I believe that may apply to all. Gary Wall has already made history in this county. He certainly has created a dialogue. No one thought Al Gore was worth listening to and yet not only he has he turned out to be correct on his predictions, he has won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize. History will provide us with truth, we hope, and until that happens, there is no reason to speculate about what happened to Sheriff Wall on the night in question since no one writing in this blog was there. Try not to worry. The truth will come out. Breathe....it helps you to be less stressed. Remain calm...our lives will go on.

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Benny 6 years, 8 months ago

John Warner never drank alcohol either. Didn't drink one drop after his twenties. He drove to and from work and home which is the entire county policy for every department head. You never saw him using his county vehicle to move or to visit his wife in another state or grocery shop.

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JustAsking 6 years, 8 months ago

SBVOR, Normally I'm asking the questions, but in this case I have the answer to your "how did this clown get elected?"

Simple: He had a "D" after his name on the ballot.

Obviously got votes just because he ran as a democrat and that was enough of a "qualification" from the mindless throng. No looking into his qualifications or character just voting for him because of the "D". Just shows that "sheep get shorn!"

But I realize that you already knew that and were just waiting for some idiot to try to defend him! Come on SBVOR. Have just a little compassion for the weak minded voter. After all they are promised all kinds of "free" stuff by voting democrat. What moron could resist? (..oh I see THAT is a question!)

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