Saturday, October 6, 2007
Steamboat Springs Four former tenants accused of throwing a "demolition party" are now facing more severe felony charges after the District Attorney's Office upped the ante in the case.
In addition to the Class 4 felony criminal mischief charge the DA's Office initially filed in the cases, Phillip Hafner, 21, of Oregon; Michael Gatrell, 21, of Ohio; Samuel Walsh, 21, of Illinois, and Raymond Jay, 22, of Arizona, are now facing harsher Class 3 criminal mischief charges.
Police estimate the men caused more than $15,000 worth of damage to a home on Walton Creek Road by breaking windows, doors, appliances and destroying carpet, walls, and fixtures during a party April 3.
If convicted, the men could face up to 12 years in prison and pay up to $750,000 in fines, in addition to an unknown amount of restitution.
Steamboat Springs attorney Larry Combs, who is representing Walsh, Jay and Gatrell, entered not guilty pleas on behalf of Jay and Gatrell during a hearing in Routt County Court last week.
Jay's five-day trial is scheduled to begin Dec. 10. Gatrell's five-day trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 8.
Walsh is scheduled to appear in court at 9 a.m. Oct. 24. Combs did not know if Walsh would be pleading not guilty to the charges or if he would be able to reach a plea agreement with the DA's Office in the case.
Steamboat Springs attorney Adam Mayo, who is representing Hafner, said his client likely will plead not guilty to the charges during a court hearing at 1 p.m. Oct. 22.
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James, who is prosecuting Walsh's case, said Thursday that he could not comment on the case.
Deputy District Attorney Andy Heyl, who is prosecuting the other three cases, said the Class 3 felony charge was filed "based on a complicity theory." Essentially, the men are facing more severe charges because they allegedly encouraged other partygoers to damage the home during the April 3 party, damage for which they are responsible, Heyl said.
Defense attorneys are concerned their clients are "being backed into a corner" by the DA's Office and could potentially be forced to pay more than $100,000 in restitution, despite being charged with only about $15,000 worth of the home's damage.
Steamboat Springs Police Dept. Capt. Bob DelValle said the discrepancy likely came from the insurance agent's assessment of "actual damage," which was not all directly related to the alleged crime.
Jon Wade, who had closed on the house the men were living in the day of the party, said he hopes the DA's Office balances the men's alleged crime with the punishment.
"I just hope they learn a lesson that this isn't welcome in Steamboat Springs," Wade said. "It's not a good lesson to learn, but unfortunately, it's the path they chose."
Wade said he has been pushing the DA's Office to offer Walsh a lighter punishment because Walsh apparently "owned up" and claimed responsibility for the damage.
State Farm Insurance agent Dax Maddox said he could not comment on the case since litigation is pending.
Wade said he paid a $4,500 deductible, and insurance paid about $109,000 for the claim. The house has since been remodeled, and new tenants have moved into the home, Wade said.