Steamboat Springs An increase in felony cases across the 14th Judicial District is overloading the District Attorney's Office and could result in the hire of a new investigator.
District Attorney Bonnie Roesink said Wednesday that her office has handled 489 felony cases in Routt, Moffat and Grand counties in 2007, an increase of about 10 percent. She said 131 of those cases originated in Routt County.
A recent alleged murder in Steamboat Springs, an alleged vehicular homicide in South Routt, an alleged murder and alleged attempted murder in Craig, the retrial for Thomas Lee Johnson and a vehicular homicide case that was recently assigned from the 9th Judicial District have swamped the local DA's Office, Roesink said.
"In my 20 years, this is the highest number of serious cases I've seen come all at once," she said.
In a Sept. 25 letter to the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Roesink expressed concern that violent crimes will continue to escalate in Northwest Colorado.
"The explosive growth in our communities is a harbinger of more serious crime," Roesink wrote.
In an effort to ensure that all the district's cases, not just felonies, are being handled appropriately, Roesink requested funding from three counties to hire a second full-time investigator for the last months of 2007 and for all of 2008.
"It's really been a strain to have one person covering nearly 9,000 miles of a district," she said.
On Tuesday, county commissioners in Routt and Grand counties approved Roesink's request. Moffat County has offered tentative approval and is scheduled to take up the matter next week.
Routt County commissioners agreed to increase the DA's Office budget by $16,305 for salaries, benefits and operating expenses in 2007, and to increase the budget by about $31,000 in 2008. Routt, Grand and Moffat counties each pay a portion of salaries and benefits for the DA's Office, based on each county's population. Each county has its own operating budget.
Joe DeAngelo is the district's only investigator, Roesink said. He started working for the DA's Office in January 2006. Because of budget cuts, the DA's Office has lost two full-time investigator positions throughout the years, she said.
DeAngelo, who taught a class for Moffat County law enforcement officers Tuesday, said he has been working between 60 and 70 hours a week for the past three months, while juggling between as many as 20 cases at a time.
"It's been brutal," he said.
DeAngelo said he has to prioritize how much time he spends investigating each case.
"Because of our current situation, all my time has been dedicated to these very serious crimes," he said. "Hiring another (investigator) is a great benefit."
DeAngelo said another investigator would lessen the time he spends traveling and allow him to dedicate time to putting together "solid cases" for DA's Office attorneys to prosecute.
"It's really an issue of public safety," he said. "We have a great lifestyle in all three counties, but we've been hit with a rash of very serious crimes. We need to be able to investigate and prosecute (the cases) to the fullest extent of the law in order to preserve that quality of life. We needed an additional position to do that properly."
Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said Tuesday that adding an investigator to the DA's Office reflects "the reality of what's going on."
"We're aware and cognizant of what's going on," he said.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak agreed.
"For us, things just continue to escalate for the DA's Office in terms of the seriousness of the crimes that are coming across," she said.
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