Basalt police trying to unravel mystery of why dozens of chemical filled bottles were dumped into Roaring Fork River | SteamboatToday.com

Basalt police trying to unravel mystery of why dozens of chemical filled bottles were dumped into Roaring Fork River

Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

Basalt police are trying to unravel the mystery of the chemical-filled bottles thrown into the Roaring Fork River after searching the home of a man arrested Friday when allegedly caught in the act of discarding plastic containers.

Basalt Police Chief Gregg Knott said Monday officers searched the house of Ricardo Parras-Membreno, 43, for more than three hours Friday night at the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park. They found no evidence of a drug-making operation, Knott said.

The search was conducted after a dramatic sweep of the scene by the All-Hazards Response Team from Garfield County. The team made sure the house could be entered by officers without hazardous materials suits and was free of dangerous parties.

Ricardo Parras-Membreno

“We conducted the search warrant and found chemicals in the residence,” Knott said. “There was no meth found in the residence.”

Parras-Membreno was taken to Pitkin County Jail and was released Saturday after posting $15,000 bail. He was arrested on three felony charges related to dumping hazardous waste.

Knott said they continue to investigate why the suspect was allegedly mixing chemicals and dumping the bottles in the river. Knott said 74 bottles have been recovered from the river at the bridge or downstream.

“We have to explore all possibilities of what those chemicals were being used for,” Knott said.

Parras-Membreno was arrested at dawn Friday after police staked out a site near the 7-Eleven Bridge in Basalt where at least 74 bottles were thrown into the river since this winter.

When he was questioned after his arrest, Parras-Membreno claimed there was only water in the bottles, according to an affidavit submitted to a judge by Basalt police to get Friday’s search warrant.

“He eventually acknowledged they contained chemicals, but would not explain the reasoning for his actions,” the affidavit said. “He stated he wanted to clear the inside of the bottles, and the duct tape was to protest the outside.

“It appears Parras is avoiding telling us what the bottles are for,” the affidavit concluded.

Basalt police were perplexed when the bottles kept getting discarded even after media coverage of the issue. They placed two surveillance cameras at the bridge and recorded video of a man dumping bottles out of a bag March 9 and again March 12. Officers hid along the riverbank on subsequent nights and allegedly caught Parras-Membreno in the act before dawn Friday.

He was arrested without incident while he walked toward a Basalt bus stop on upvalley Highway 82. Police initially incorrectly identified Parras-Membreno with the first name of Carlos.

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Police believe Parras-Membreno shared the residence with roommates but no other individual is suspected of involvement in the mixing or dumping of the chemicals, Knott said.

When asked if the police department was concerned about Parras-Membreno fleeing the area, Knott said officers cannot control a person’s action and movements once they post bail.

The bottles in the river first came to light in late January when police warned people not to handle any suspicious containers they discovered.

All the recovered containers were Sobe plastic water bottles wrapped in duct tape with a small gap exposing the interior. Each bottle appeared to have thick paper inside, the affidavit said.

A hazardous-materials expert with the Colorado State Patrol performed a test of the liquid Jan. 26 and the contents of one bottle were corrosive and the contents of a second flammable and corrosive, the affidavit said. The trooper used a portable spectrometer to find the liquids contained potassium oleate and hydrogen peroxide.

Four samples from bottles were sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing. No controlled substances were found.

Knott said the samples have been forwarded to a “trace lab” for more thorough testing. The results have not been returned.

Staff reporter Jason Auslander contributed to this report. scondon@aspentimes.com