U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez.

U.S. Army/Courtesy

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez.

Lopez died from head injury

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— Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lopez died Monday from "severe cranial and cerebral trauma," according to autopsy results. Steamboat Springs police said the suspects in his alleged assault may not face murder charges.

Preliminary results of the autopsy performed Tuesday in Arapahoe County indicate the Army Special Forces soldier took two blows to the face during a fight Friday at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue before falling and hitting the back of his head on the ground, Arapahoe County Coroner Mike Dobersen said. Lopez had no other injuries, and it was the pavement, not his assailants, that dealt the most serious blow, Dobersen said.

The Steamboat Springs Police Department is investigating Lopez's death as a homicide, but that doesn't mean the two unnamed suspects will face murder charges, police Capt. Joel Rae said.

Colorado law is very specific about the elements that make up charges such as murder, criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter, and last week's incident may not meet the criteria, Rae said.

"It is a possibility that when all is said and done, lesser charges could be filed," Rae said Tuesday. "Appropriate charges in the end may be second-degree assault."

Police have declined to identify the two suspects in the ongoing investigation. The men have not been arrested. They are not from the Steamboat area and have returned home and hired lawyers, according to police.

The two suspects argued with Lopez and his friends Timothy and Wesley Mottlau at The Tap House on Lincoln Avenue about their song selections on the jukebox, and the altercation became physical nearby after all five men left the bar, police said.

"It's a complete shame that anybody would die over a disagreement," Rae said. "And then you factor in that he was one of our country's soldiers, and what that individual has gone through over the last several years. To go through all that and come home and die is just a complete shame."

Dobersen said the full autopsy report won't be available for about six weeks, but he provided some details Tuesday about the nature of Lopez's injuries and the circumstances of his death.

"Basically, he died from complications of severe head injuries," Dobersen said. "The injuries weren't immediately fatal, but what they do is develop over time. He also developed a really severe pneumonia, as well.

"It sounds like he was hit in the face, then hit in the jaw, and had an unprotected fall to the back of his head. That was the severe impact."

Lopez's only injuries appeared to be to his head, Dobersen said, adding that he did not find evidence that Lopez had been punched or kicked elsewhere during the assault.

"No broken ribs, no other broken bones, no big bruises or anything like that," he said.

The coroner's account is consistent with what investigators think took place during last week's fight, Rae said.

Decorated history

Lopez, a recipient of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at North Carolina's Fort Bragg. His previous tours included Fort Campbell, Ky.; South Korea; Gainesville, Fla.; Iraq; and Afghanistan, according to a news release from the United States Army Special Operations Command News Service.

Lopez's ex-wife told the Rocky Mountain News that Lopez had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was vacationing in Steamboat Springs with his 16-year-old son Nicholas, of Jacksonville, Fla., and the Mottlaus, said Shannon Boahn, who was married to Lopez for eight years.

Timothy Mottlau is in the Navy, and Wesley Mottlau is in the Army, and they live in Norfolk, Va., and Fayetteville, N.C., respectively. The Mottlaus originally are from Steamboat Springs. They were treated at Yampa Valley Medical Center for minor injuries in the wake of the fight, according to police.

Lopez was found unconscious in the crosswalk at Seventh Street and Lincoln Avenue when police arrived at about 12:15 a.m. Friday in response to multiple 911 calls. Lopez was transported to Yampa Valley Medical Center via ambulance and was later airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center, where he died at 4:16 a.m. Monday.

Lopez was born Nov. 17, 1971, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and attended Arroyo Grande High School in Arroyo Grande, Calif., according to the Army. He enlisted in 1993.

Before joining the Special Forces, Lopez served as a platoon sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division, as an army recruiter and as a scout-sniper. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and the Army Achievement Medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Survivors include Lopez's son, Nicholas James Lopez; father, Vincent Suarez; sister Mary Ventura; and brother Mark Suarez.

- To reach Melinda Dudley, call 871-4203 or e-mail mdudley@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

Russell Orms 5 years, 3 months ago

I just don't understand young people today. Fighting over a jukebox selection? Someone DIED because you didn't like his song. I understand that each generation seeks its own identity but what is going on here?

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routtcoguy 5 years, 3 months ago

If he hadn't have been punched in the face he wouldn't have hit his head on the pavement. Second degree assault would not be a fitting charge.

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Ed Miklus 5 years, 3 months ago

How tragic. A waste of a human life over a jukebox song.

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toboyle105 5 years, 3 months ago

So, let me get this straight. If I am driving down 40 thru town and had a few drinks, I hit you with my car and you fall and hit your head and die, I will be charged with vehicular manslaughter at a minimum. Now if I stumbled out of a bar downtown and punch you in the face a couple of times and you fall and hit your head and die, its call "simple" assault.

Man its a good thing it wasn't a local realtor, then it would be "string em up".

Looks like a good Law and Order episode. What a joke.

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toboyle105 5 years, 3 months ago

It seems to be more of a crime here to touch a soft spot of the female anatomy in a drunken haze at a mountainside bar than to physically assault someone causing their death downtown.

Where is the outrage?

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trump_suit 5 years, 3 months ago

While I condemn the actions that took place that night, none of us know the details of what happened there.............. It is entirely possible that the police are hearing that the victim was also the aggressor, and slipped while attacking. In that situation, murder/manslaughter charges would not necessarily be appropriate. I don't know anymore than any of you, but the investigation and trial should be allowed to play out before we perform a public lynching

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toboyle105 5 years, 3 months ago

According to Tap House people, both groups were led out separately. Ever heard of just walking away?

If felt threatened, ever heard of calling Barney Fife?

Maybe downtown needs a beat cop instead of Durango Rangers during drinking hours.

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seeuski 5 years, 3 months ago

toboyle105, So tell us what exactly happened, who is to fault,and what do you suggest is the proper charge? Give it to us straight we need to know?

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Duke_bets 5 years, 3 months ago

The ex-wife of the victim basically stated that the victim was the aggressor.

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Duey 5 years, 3 months ago

Would really like to know about the blood alcohol content. Over serving has been a way of life here. Its like drunk driving was 20 years ago. Its time to enforce those laws.

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Duke_bets 5 years, 3 months ago

Duey - BAC is pretty obvious. I haven't heard of too many people getting in fights and dying over a juke box confrontation that were sober.

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seeuski 5 years, 3 months ago

What an imagination. What the he[[ is wrong with Jimmy Buffet? Will I get my ars kicked if I play Cheeseburger in Paradise? And I am sure if someone pushed you around you would just Barney Fife your way out the back door quietly. Also, You seem very comfortable getting the facts out of some rag in Denver. What a source to quote from!

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toboyle105 5 years, 3 months ago

Is pretty funny, you can get arrested around here for suspicion of public urination (guess the yellw snow gave him away) but causing the death of another is oh hum.

The slueths for the Pilot are doing a great job covering this story.

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seeuski 5 years, 3 months ago

Come on dukey-bets, Was his ex wife there? Where can we find the statement you attribute the victim being the aggressor to?

Telefly is right, let the justice system do its job. As far as drinking goes, this is a resort, people drink in resorts too. I am sure no one posting here about over drinking ever has had a few too many. Sure. Watch out for those stones flying in your own glass houses.

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toboyle105 5 years, 3 months ago

It has been reported (Denver Post) that the victim was the one playing Jimmy Buffet. So you know how that goes with drunks. Loud Mouth Larry can't keep his pie hole shut and let a few guys have their fun. So it escalates from there. But Loud Mouth Larry just can't walk away. His manhood was offended somehow.

As I said, if there was a little more of Barney Fife around maybe these things wouldn't happen.

Look at the police reports, by the time they show up everyone has hauled ass.

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Sara Gleason 5 years, 3 months ago

I met Richie last year (actually technically 2 years ago) during his visit here with Wes. He seemed like a very respectable, nice guy. I did not know him very well, but my prayers and thoughts are with everyone involved in this, especially his son. Maybe this is not just another incident for everyone to comment on, but something very tragic for everyone involved. I would suggest that comments without any actual knowledge are not only out of line, but not in good taste. No one knows what happened, but a man, soldier, and father died. Maybe we should all try to remember that. God Bless you Richie!

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