Steamboat Springs The investigation surrounding the Jan. 5 death of Richard Lopez is being turned over to the District Attorney's Office, though it will take a few weeks to review the case before charges are filed against the two suspects, District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham said Wednesday.
Oldham said she and Routt County Deputy District Attorney Carl Stahl, who will handle the case, expect to receive all the reports from the Steamboat Springs Police Department by early next week. Until all the material is reviewed and charging decisions are made, Oldham said it would be premature to discuss what direction the cases against the suspects may go.
"There will be a lot of material to go over," Oldham said. "We just want to take our time and make the right decisions."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Lopez, 37, died Jan. 5 at a Denver hospital from severe head and brain trauma sustained after an altercation in downtown Steamboat Springs three days prior. Steamboat police investigated his death as a homicide.
Police briefed the District Attorney's Office several times during the course of the 48-day investigation, Capt. Joel Rae said Wednesday. The fact that the suspects live in Florida, and the thoroughness required because a death was involved, contributed to the length of the investigation, he said.
Detectives took two trips to Florida during the course of the investigation to serve search warrants and interview witnesses, Rae said.
"I know society, especially when a crime of this magnitude happens, we want justice to be swift and we want it to be appropriate," Rae said. "To do a good job with a case like this, sometimes swift isn't the best way to go about this."
Searching for facts
Preliminary autopsy results show Lopez was hit twice by an assailant - once in the face and once in the jaw. The fatal blow, however, came from striking the back of his head on the ground. Lopez's autopsy results nearly are finalized, although toxicology reports still are pending, Arapahoe County Coroner Mike Dobersen said Wednesday.
Lopez, who was stationed at North Carolina's Fort Bragg with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), was vacationing in Steamboat Springs when the fight occurred. He and two friends, Steamboat Springs natives Timothy and Wesley Mottlau, got into an argument with the two suspects at The Tap House. Police think the argument began about song selections on the restaurant's jukebox.
Attorney Charles Feldmann, who represents the suspects, has identified his clients only as "Eddie" and "David," two Florida brothers in their 20s. Feldmann was not in his office Wednesday and did not return calls for comment.
Rae declined to identify the suspects Wednesday, and said their identities will not be released until warrants are issued for their arrests.
All five men left The Tap House, and police and restaurant owners say no physical altercation took place inside the business. The fight is thought to have taken place near the intersection of Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue. When police arrived on scene to respond to multiple 911 calls, the suspects had fled and Lopez reportedly was unconscious in the crosswalk.
Lopez was transported via ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center and later airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center, where he died three days later. The Mottlaus also sustained minor injuries in the fight and were treated at YVMC, according to police. Timothy Mottlau is in the Navy, his brother Wesley is in the Army, and they now live in Norfolk, Va., and Fayetteville, N.C., respectively.
In January, Feldmann said his clients were not the aggressors in the fight and only acted in self-defense to protect themselves and their wife and girlfriend. His clients were unaware that Lopez had been injured when they ran away from the fight and left downtown in a taxi, according to Feldmann.
Police have declined to release additional details about the incident or comment on Feldmann's version of events, though Rae said Wednesday that investigators have "a very clear picture" of what happened.
"Fights happen all the time, but assaults don't happen all the time where people die," Rae said. "Really, our goal was to talk to everyone involved, which we did accomplish. Sometimes those things take time."