Officers respond to shooting

Early Christmas morning, local law enforcement was greeted by a shower of bullets from a burning home near Ignacio. Officers apprehended and transported Eugene Nick Martinez, 46, to the hospital after he apparently turned a gun on himself.

The mayhem began at about 5:45 a.m., when a neighbor woke up to see a fire burning near his home about 12 miles southwest of Durango. The man called 911 and then got in his car and drove over to investigate. As he approached, his car was stuck and disabled by at least three bullets, and he fled on foot.

Minutes later, two Southern Ute Tribal Police officers approached from opposite directions, and they too came under fire. Onepatrol unit was fired upon at least five times and struck at least twice, in the grill and left front tire.The officer was not injured and drove back through the possible ambush zone to warn nearby residents to seek cover.The second patrol car was also struck at least three times.Bulletsstruckthe hood, rear window, windshield and rear view mirror, narrowly missing the driver.A fourth vehicle, a private truck driven by a volunteer fireman was also struck by gun firethree or four times including the hood and rear window.

All told, the shooting spree lasted about 15 minutes. No shots were fired by officers since they could not determine where the shots were coming from.Eventually, personnel from La Plata County Sheriff's Office and Colorado State Patrol arrived on scene and began to search the area.They found a home, two pickup trucks, a storage building, a horse trailer, and a flat bed trailer, all onfire. They also found two rifles on the ground near county road at the entrance to the property.

At about 7:15 a.m., officers found a Martinez sitting in a pasture about 150 yards from the torched house. He was suffering from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face, from under the jaw. He had three rifles and two semi-auto pistols with him.Martinez was flown to a hospital in Grand Junction and then to a hospital in Denver. He is being held on charges of arson and attempted murder.

Lt. Dan Bender of the La Plata County Sheriff's Office, commented that it was a miracle that nobody else was severely injured or killed. "I viewed all four vehicles that were hit, and I would call it aChristmas miracle for those first four people who responded to the fire," he said. "At least three of them had bullets pass within inches of their heads and the only injury was the glass in one officer's face."

Communal living moves forward

A group of locals is trying to put a new spin on Durango development. The Earthrise Housing Cooperative is working to bring a 12- to 15-home community that will focus on environmental values and human relationships to the corner of Florida Road and North College Drive.

Damian Leuthold, vice president of Earthrise, said the development would take a village approach to living, maximizing quality of life while minimizing expenses. The rammed-earth townhomes would include shared greenhouses, community meals, shared technology and play areas, and a shared pool of vehicles, among other things. Earthrise has been in the works for two years and hopes to break ground this summer. "We're hoping to get something that's a cross between the co-housing idea and the eco-village idea," he said.

Leuthold said one dilemma for the group was whether to stay in Durango or buy cheaper land in a rural area. "The problem with making something out in the middle of nowhere is you don't have an economic base," he said. "These kinds of projects often go where land is cheap but then people have no way of making a living without commuting."

On Dec. 23, the Durango City Council amended the city's comprehensive plan to allow Earthrise to develop. Leuthold said if the Earthrise experiment works, it could be something promising for Durango's future. "Certainly, we would love to be an example of how to build better," Leuthold said. "This is kind of an initial small test project. If we are successful with this we'll be looking at continuing to develop more good stuff like this."

Earthrise is hosting an introductory meeting for anyone interested in the concept at 6 p.m. at Jan. 6. For more information, call 259-9488 or log onto

Resort enjoys banner holiday season

Halfway through the holiday season, Durango Mountain Resort is reporting visitation numbers that are on par with some of its best holidays ever. Early this week, Matt Skinner, DMR communications director, commented: "The holiday numbers have been good so far. We're just slightly behind last year's pace which was one of the best holiday seasons we've had."

Skinner was also optimistic that the surge and the snowfall would continue through this weekend, possibly putting visitation over last year. "This year's holiday season is spread out more than last year's so we're hoping to see continued good numbers through Jan. 4," he said.

The latest storm to hit the San Juans brought DMR's base to 42 inches, one of the more respectable snowpacks in the state, and the mountain is 100 percent open. After this weekend, DMR will enter what is typically its slowest time of the season, January. However, if the snow continues, the resort could continue to draw visitors.

Real estate market remains strong

Real Estate in La Plata County finished 2003 in peak form, and the market looks to remain strong in the coming year.

Gina Piccoli, broker-owner of Coldwell Banker Heritage House Realtors, commented: "It's definitely steady. Last year, we saw increases and strong appreciation. We had a strong seller's market."

This was particularly true inside Durango city limits, Piccoli said, where a lack of inventory drove prices up. Average sales prices in town went up by 20 percent at the same time the number of homes that changed hands dropped 21 percent below the previous year.

"There wasn't a lot of inventory, which makes the prices go up," Piccoli said.

In the county surrounding Durango, average sales prices actually dropped by 4 percent, which corresponded to a 4 percent increase in the number of homes that changed hands.

Piccoli said that if current trends continue, Durango and La Plata County real estate should retain and gain value.

"If outside forces remain the same and interest rates remain reasonable, the market should continue to be strong in 2004," she said.

-compiled by Will Sands





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