Matt Stensland’s top 10 stories from 2017
January 7, 2018
Routt County wildfires
Routt County residents became accustomed to living with wildfires during what proved to be a very active season.
Smoke filled the air, there were plumes of smoke in the distance, and ash fell from the sky as more as more than 7,500 acres burned.
The Deep Creek Fire nine miles northeast of Hayden was the largest. It was reported Sept. 4 and burned 4,161 acres before it was 100 percent contained Sept. 13.
It might have been sparked by a previous fire and costs exceeded $2 million.
The Mill Creek Fire 13 miles northeast of Hayden started after a bulldozer caught fire.
The fire started July 1 and burned 482 acres.
Costs to fight that fire exceeded $1 million.
The Big Red Fire was caused by lightning and burned in the Routt National Forest in the northern part of the county.
It burned 2,940 acres and was declared out Oct. 30 following multiple snow storms.
Dangerous snow conditions led to an avalanche that killed an adorned Routt County resident.
Jesse Christensen, 55, died in the Valentines Day slide in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
Christensen was riding snowbikes with his friend, Sean Searle.
Searle survived the initial slide as well as two additional avalanches.
Searle tried desperately to rescue his friend, with whom he had been riding with for many years.
Routt County Search and Rescue volunteers rescued Searle with the aid of a Classic Air Medical helicopter.
Both riders had shovels, probes and airbag packs, but there was no evidence that Christensen had a avalanche transmitter.
Christensen was a talented musician, artist and a devout Mormon.
He is survived by his wife and six children.
In one of the more disturbing stories from 2017, a 61-year-old Steamboat Springs man faces life in prison for crimes committed against children.
Miguel Diaz-Martinez was accused of exchanging drugs for sex with underage girls, and he was originally charged with 41 felonies.
In September, he accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to three counts of human trafficking for sexual servitude, five counts of trafficking of minors for sexual servitude and one count of attempted sexual assault.
All the charges are felonies.
Diaz-Martinez is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 16.
Diaz-Martinez was arrested Nov. 29, 2016.
The investigation stemmed from a Routt County Crime Stoppers tip in July 2016 about illegal drug activity at a Steamboat residence. Police discovered multiple sexual assault victims.
Freedom shot down
A bald eagle had to be euthanized after it was found with a gunshot wound on a county road north of Hayden.
Authorities were still trying to find the person responsible.
The bird was found Dec. 14 and was taken to the Born Free Wildlife Rehabilitation outside of Steamboat Springs, which is operated by Tracy Bye.
The eagle was examined by Steamboat Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Lee Meyring.
X-rays showed one of the eagle's legs was nearly severed, and bullet fragments were found in its body.
Meyring said it was the worst case of animal cruelty he had seen during his 22-year career.
Euthanizing the bird was especially emotional for Meyring and Bye.
The eagle was brought outside with views of the mountains to die.
“When I put that eagle down, it was the most significant sadness that I’ve ever experienced,” Meyring said.
“He was alert and the wind was blowing in his feathers and everything,” Bye said.
After administering the shot, the bird slowly dropped its head and closed its eyes.
“The wind chimes went off,” Bye said. “A really emotional situation because it didn’t need to be. It was like he was forgiving people even though a person did this to him.”
An avalanche also nearly took the life of Routt County Search and Rescue volunteer who was trying to rescue others.
Two Minnesota men called for help after getting lost while skiing and snowboarding Jan. 12 on Buffalo Mountain.
Search and Rescue volunteer Jay Bowman, 54, along with three other expert backcountry skiers went to rescue the men in the Fish Creek drainage.
The rescuers dug a snow pit near the steep slope to test snow stability, and it became clear the snow was not stable.
Bowman was the third skier to traverse the slope when the slope let loose.
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Bowman sped down the mountain, hit a tree and shattered his humerus bone. If he had not wrapped his knee around another tree about 350 feet down, Bowman could have slid another 400 feet.
“I wanted to fight as hard as I could to come home to my family,” Bowman said. “I definitely thought about that and said it’s worth fighting to stay alive.”
The other rescuers quickly reached Bowman.
While injured, he was able to ski out, and the men who originally called for help were located.
Bowman had surgery and had a long plate with 13 screws put in to hold his shattered arm together. He also had some broken bones in his leg and a laceration on his head was closed with five staples.
Yampa River tragedy
A 22-year-old man who had recently moved to Steamboat drowned in the Yampa River after fleeing police in May.
Arman "Jack" Qureshi came to Steamboat to work in information technology.
He was drunk at a downtown bar, when he took a woman's coat and left.
Qureshi was confronted, and he ran away with the coat.
He was chased down and beat up in an alley a block away.
Police arrived and tried to sort out what had happened.
While escorting Qureshi to an ambulance to get checked out, he began sprinting and fled.
Police chased Qureshi to the frigid Yampa River, which was running high with spring runoff.
Qureshi went into the river. Despite pleas from police, Qureshi would not get out, and his body was recovered the next day.
While following up on the incident, police interviewed Qureshi's roommates, who said he had a serious alcohol problem that he kept from his parents.
According to roommates, Qureshi would drink up to a 1.75 liters of vodka daily.
One roommate told police he had talked to Qureshi about getting help, but he was not responsive.
Hayden voters approve additional taxes
Hayden officials are breathing a little easier now that voters have approved additional taxes for essential infrastructure projects.
During the November election, voters approved the tax measure 325-232.
The town will take out a $3.7 million bond that will cost up to $5.2 million to repay over 15 years. The tax will then go away.
The tax will be in the form of a property tax.
A resident will pay an additional $111.52 a year per $100,000 of property value.
The town will use $1.5 million for road improvements, $1.5 million for water improvements and $700,000 for sewer improvements.
Water improvements will include water plant upgrades, deferred maintenance items and the replacement of water lines in sections of roads.
Sewer improvements will include the removal of 35 years worth of sediment from the lagoon.
Road improvement money will be used for reconstructing East View Drive, Washington Avenue, West Lincoln Avenue, Vista Verde Drive and Hospital Hill, which would include adding a pedestrian sidewalk.
By passing the tax, the town wanted to keep water and sewer rates much lower for the long term.
Summer in Steamboat
The base of the Steamboat Ski Area came to life this summer with addition of new attractions, including the longest mountain coaster in North America.
The ski area is hoping to draw more summer visitors and compete with other Colorado ski areas who are upping their games when it comes to summer activities.
The Outlaw Mountain Coaster opened in September and is 6,280 feet long.
The ride up in the car takes about two minutes, and the ride down can be completed in one minute, 45 seconds if you don’t apply any brakes.
Maximum speed tops out at 25 miles per hour, which is plenty fast when making the sharp turns.
The coaster also operates during the winter.
Other recent investments include a miniature golf course, a 40-foot climbing wall, a ropes course and a summer tubing hill.
"This will definitely be a place where you can come and spend the day," Jim Schneider, vice president of skier services, told Steamboat Today when the projects were under construction earlier this summer.
Fatal rattlesnake bite
A 31-year-old man who brought a bright smile to the Steamboat triathlon community was tragically killed Oct. 1 after being bitten by a rattlesnake while hiking in Golden.
Daniel Hohs had recently moved away from Steamboat and was living with his girlfriend in Golden.
Friends and loved ones were shocked to learn of Hohs' death, especially because fatal bites are so rare, Hohs was in top physical condition, and he died so quickly.
Hohs died two hours and 12 minutes after the initial call for help was made.
In August 2014, Hohs became an Ironman when he completed his first full-distance race in Louisville, Kentucky.
Hohs had been training with Heather Gollnick’s IronEdge triathlon team.
“Dan was so vibrant,” Gollnick said. “He had this huge smile and this energy that just made you happy. It was contagious to everyone.”
Hohs excelled in introducing newcomers to the sport.
“He had a way of making them feel comfortable,” Gollnick said. "He was just one of those really decent human beings.”
Freak accidents led to the deaths of two Steamboat residents who died while cycling in Steamboat.
Another woman was critically injured and paralyzed.
Steamboat Realtor Steve Novack left his office July 16 to grab some lunch when he crashed hard on his bike on Trafalgar Drive between Freshie’s and the Mountain View Car wash.
He was knocked unconscious after hitting his head.
Witnesses who heard the loud crash rushed to Novack's aid before he was taken to the hospital, then flown to Denver.
He died the next day from a traumatic brain injury.
Friends remember Novack as being very community oriented and was always the first to sign up to volunteer.
Philip (P.D.) Sohn, 69, died July 27 after crash in the Dakota Ridge subdivision.
Sohn split his time between Steamboat Springs and Conroe, Texas.
Sohn had been riding with five other cyclists.
Sohn and the other cyclists had regrouped after climbing to the top of the subdivision.
The cyclists then rode to the bottom of the hill.
Sohn was known to be a cautious rider and was typically the last to make it downhill.
The cyclists waited five to 10 minutes before riding uphill to look for Sohn.
They found him not breathing in a ditch along a curve.
Sohn was wearing a helmet, and it was damaged.
Mary Brown, who served eight years on city council, was paralyzed after crashing her bike Aug. 5.
The 67-year-old was riding her bike on the south side of Steamboat with her husband, John Tomasini, and friends when she hit an orange construction barrel.
Brown was wearing a helmet, but the impact was significant, and she struggled to remain conscious.
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighters resuscitated her and brought her to Yampa Valley Medical Center. She then was flown to Denver Health.
Brown suffered two fractures in her cervical spine at C1 and C2, which are located at the top of the spine.
Brown has lived in Steamboat for nearly 50 years.
She served on the City Council from 1987 to 1995. She was council president from 1989 to 1993.