Mudslides hammer East Animas

Last week, La Plata County experienced its worst flooding to date as a result of the Missionary Ridge Fire. Substantial rainfall and devastation hit last Saturday and returned Tuesday evening as La Plata County crews worked to fight the flows.
Rains on Saturday impacted Florida Road, County Road 501 and County Road 250 (East Animas Road) with mudslides and high water. County Road 250 was hit hardest when just less than an inch of rain triggered mud flows and rock slides. Six families were forced to leave their homes, and another 12 families had debris in their homes. In addition, 700 customers were trapped by flooding on both sides of the Bar D Chuckwagon.

Tuesday evening, as residents and crews were working to clean up the weekend devastation, heavy rains returned. Again County Road 250 felt the brunt. “All of the drainages ran fairly big,” said Rick Routh, county engineer. “Steven’s Creek ran really big. We had six feet of material on the road.”

Routh added that the debris has dropped off slightly, saying, “There’s still tons of debris, but not as much as past events.”

On County Road 250 and County Road 501, crews worked hard to keep the roads open.

“The crews worked all night,” Routh said. He added that the county is trying to replace culverts with larger ones but needs breaks in the weather.

“We’ll just keep persevering whenever it gets dry,” he said.

As for possible relief from future flooding, Routh said, “It would be premature to say that. At anytime we could get a 2-inch storm that could cause us to lose significant stretches of road way.”

Joanne Spina, spokesperson for La Plata County, added, “What’s important to remember is that this is a long term proposition and that as these events occur our road and bridge emergency crews are doing everything they can to stay on top of this. County residents should be very proud of the county’s emergency management and road and bridge crews.”

Routh was quick to add that the real concern remains residences below canyons and drainages. “Structures are and will continue to be at risk,” he said.
Spina concurred that the biggest threat was to residences and people. “No one is evacuated, but we are obviously on a state of high alert whenever we have flash flood alerts,” she said.

Bear ransacks Durango’s Southside

Southsiders lazing about Sunday morning experienced an unusual if not rude awakening: Durango Police on a loudspeaker informing them to stay inside their homes.

Sacred Heart churchgoers spilling out of 9 a.m. mass also were greeted with a warning to either get in their cars or go back into the church.

The warnings were not the result of a homicidal maniac or a biological attack but a pissed off, 300-pound male bear that had taken up residence near some fruit trees in a back yard.

Officers were called in to shoe off the ornery bruin, but the big guy didn’t take well to their advances. “When (officers) went in to shoe him, he charged them,” said Cpl. Geary Parsons who responded to the incident.

That’s when they pulled out the heavy artillery – pepper spray and bean-bag rounds – to herd the bear toward Horse Gulch. But once again, he had plans of his own.

“It took off headed toward Sacred Heart Church,” said Durango Police Sgt. Tony Archuleta.

Fearing unsuspecting churchgoers would be caught in the crossfire, officers got on the horn. “They were afraid, with the bear being a little aggressive, that someone would get hurt,” said Archuleta.

For the most part, people heeded the officers’ warnings, although curiosity got the better of a few, who tried to follow the bear, Archuleta said. As for the bear, he found his way up a tree near the church before being put down for a nap by a Division of Wildlife officer – thus creating a whole other set of problems.

“Once he went out, he was stuck in the tree,” said Parsons.

Eventually, amid tearing and coughing fits, officers delivered the pepper-sprayed bear to ground level, tagged him and released him back into the wild, Parsons said.

Only time will tell whether the bear’s religious experience was enough to convince him to stay clear of town.

Mercy to move to Grandview

On Sept. 6, the Mercy Medical Center Board of Directors signed a letter of intent to pursue negotiations to relocate the hospital to Grandview. The letter was signed following the announcement that the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Southfork Ranch had reached an agreement to donate 35 acres of land in the Grandview area to Mercy Medical Center. The agreement also allows Mercy Medical Center to buy an additional 45 acres as needed to grow to an 80-acre medical campus in the future. The Utes and Crader family are going forward with a plan for 2,000 new units on a 920-acre site roughly two miles east of Durango.

Pat Murphy, chairman of the hospital’s Board of Directors, said, “The hospital on the existing campus is well over 100 years old. We’re facing a lot of growth issues. We’re in the neighborhood of 40,000 feet deficient for the services we currently provide.”

A Mercy Medical Center news release states that the hospital is honored that the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and landowner Rowean Crader reached out to the health-care community by donating land for its new medical campus.

“We’ve been working to identify a site,” said Murphy. “We started off identifying a potential dozen sites in the county. We eliminated some, and winnowed the thing down to the point where they came at us as the best choice.”

Speaking to the donation of the land, Murphy added, “It’s a very generous offer.”

Pending city approval of the development, groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2003. Last year, Mercy began a comprehensive planning process to determine how it could best meet the future health-care needs of Durango and surrounding communities. Mercy made the decision to move from its current location after a study confirmed physical plant limitations, space constraints and the need to meet the health-care issues of a growing community could not be achieved on the existing campus.

Man arrested for attempted murder

On Sept. 5, Gilbert Clarence Abeyta, a 56-year-old Durango resident, was arrested for attempted murder at his home, according to a Durango Police Department news releasae. Abeyta allegedly shot 21-year-old Pricilla Rippee on Dec. 4, 2000, while she sat in her car in the driveway of his home.

Originally Durango Police believed that Rippee had shot herself in an attempt to commit suicide, but in May of 2001, Rippee’s family raised sufficient doubts that Rippee had shot herself.

In a joint investigation between the 6th Judicial District and Durango police, investigators re-examined all the evidence; re-interviewed all the witnesses, the victim in the case and newly developed witnesses; and collected new evidence.

After several months of investigation and after Abeyta became the primary suspect, the case was presented to the District Attorney’s Office for review. During the week of Aug. 29, the District Attorney’s Office contacted Investigator Dan Shry, Durango Police Department’s lead investigator of the case, and advised him to proceed in obtaining an arrest warrant for Abeyta, which was obtained Sept. 2.

Investigators arrested Abeyta at his home without incident. Investigators believe that Abeyta and Rippee got into an argument while standing outside of Rippee’s car on the afternoon of Dec. 4, 2000 around 2:30 p.m. They believe that Abeyta and Rippee got into her car where the argument continued and resulted in Abeyta shooting Rippee in the head once with a .25 caliber pistol that he owned. Investigators believe that after Abeyta shot Rippee he left the gun in the car and then went into his house and called 911, reporting that a woman had shot herself.

Abeyta was booked into La Plata County Jail on charges of first-degree attempted murder pending formal charges by the District Attorney’s Office. Bond was set at $150,000.

Man holds up store with crowbar

An investigation of a robbery at the Hermosa Conoco station is currently under way by the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office.

Last Sunday at approximately 9:45 p.m., a man wearing a ski mask and wielding a crowbar entered the convenience store, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The man then reached over and took money out of the cash register door while menacing the female employee with the crowbar. The incident is still under investigation, and the Sheriff’s Office would not disclose how much money had been stolen.

-compiled by Will Sands
and Missy Votel





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