Rocky Mountain Showdown: Confrontations Amid The Coronavirus
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
“People are tired of being told what to do.” Truer words could not have been spoken in light of the past 10 weeks as Lake County continues to operate under the State of Emergency order declared March 16. The statement was made by Lake County Sheriff Amy Reyes at the May 11 Zoom meeting hosted by 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown, in partnership with local law enforcement as well as representatives from public health and recreation. The conversation shed some light on how -or in most cases, if – the present public health order is enforceable.
DA Brown started off the meeting with a general question: “Are there a lot of people being non-complaint and what do we know about them, concerning their age, gender, residence?”
Sheriff Reyes reported that they are seeing some large house parties among the younger set (<20 years) which might be expected. However, she also said that they are seeing older aged adults (60-80 years) coming into town. “People are – understandably – a lot more aggressive. They are tired of being told what to do, they are actually more hostile than what we were seeing 3-4 weeks ago. After Memorial Day, if we are still at a point where we are only allowing 10 people (at a gathering), we are going to see an increase in violations.”
Lake County Recreation Director Amber Magee reported while they did not have issues with a specific age group, there has been an increase in park use. That same day, the county website reported that “As of May 11, 2020 all outdoor recreation facilities owned and operated by Lake County are open for public use! All indoor facilities and Lake County Recreation programs will continue to be closed and suspended, through Sunday, May 31, 2020.” Initially, Magee reported “folks were generally not complying. They were either rude or they ignored the request to leave,” during the time the facilities were closed. However, a similar sentiment continued in this week’s community update meetings. Reports of new signage and taping being removed almost immediately from the playground equipment after the staff puts in place to keep users away from “high-touch” areas under the current health order. “We were leaning on law enforcement because rec staff does not have the authority nor do we want anyone in harm’s way.”
And it’s not just swingset concerns, as senior citizens shopping at the local grocer have also encountered problems. Sheriff Reyes reported that they had to issue a disorderly ticket to someone who cursed out the staff at Safeway. After the incident Sheriff Reyes has held post during the seniors and at-risk shopping hours which had been established by the grocery store to make sure that everyone can stock up in a safe manner. “Safeway was having nonstop issues with it, so I started sitting their during senior hours because when Safeway tried to manage it with their people, people would get belligerent, and wouldn’t leave. By the time we would get there they would be gone.” So far, the LCSO has been able to staff officers at the store during this time to make sure that things don’t get out of hand.
Lake County Commissioner Sarah Mudge applauded their efforts but added, that law enforcement should not be spending its resources to monitor and enforce some of these things at such a micro-level. “If our community can’t have the decency and compassion to treat each other kindly and take turns out at the gun range then what do we do? We don’t have the physical capability to shut these facilities down and make it easy on us as far as enforcing that piece.”
DA Brown: “I think we need to say more about enforcement. Maybe it’s eighteen months in jail if you violate a public health order. We need to find a way to get some supervisory personnel from some agency at the skate park, for example.”
Lake County Public Health Director Colleen Nielsen: “That’s the question that we’ve had all along, in the sense that, is it just live-and-let-live? Then, if there continues to be increased transmissions (of the Coronavirus), you have to go back to Safe-at-Home and restrict, and close things down again. Keeping a good momentum and not overwhelming our system that’s really the key, to progressively open things, slowly. But I don’t think there’s any great answer at this point.”
Ultimately the May 11 meeting determined that there were no real teeth in the Lake County order that officers could apply in the field. It’s something that they continue to work on with suggestions ranging from a reward system for those following the order, to public shaming for those who don’t (bring back the courtyard stockades!), to tickets and fines. One solution involves a special coding system for COVID-19 related incidents reported through the Lake County Dispatch Center. This system will allow officials to understand the statistics and types of calls relating to the Coronavirus pandemic that are being reported locally. Overall, the enforcement of these public health orders is a conversation being held across the state, with the Governor answering several questions on the state’s website HERE.
“What many people do not know or understand is the Governor passes down recommendations to the counties and it is up to the counties or the municipalities to pass resolutions if they want to have law enforcement enforce public health orders because they are written in the statue,” explained Sheriff Reyes in an interview with Leadville Today. “The Public Health Director is the one responsible for enforcement.”
Hey, Hey You In the Mask
In recent months, most COVID-19 related law enforcement incidents have been minor, but as lockdown restrictions ease, other criminal activity is on the move as well. Sheriff Reyes reported a multitude of new graffiti and other vandalism found in an area south of Leadville: by County Rd. 36 to Hwy 24, from McWethy to Saturdays Mercantile.
“Often, taggers will have the graffiti on school folders, areas close to home, so maybe a parent or a teacher may recognize whose tagging this is,” explained Sheriff Reyes. If you can help, call anonymously to the Lake County Dispatch Center – 719-486-1249.
In addition, this week there was the random “severed foot found on the courthouse lawn” report, all making for a typical Monday morning in Leadville. The skeletal remains were later identified by an anthropologist to be from a bear. Poor fella! No additional details have been reported from the Leadville CSI labs, but stay tuned.
Jumping The Rings in Twin Lakes
While law enforcement continues to map out the legal consequences of the COVID-19 order, the creeping influx of people into Lake County has been keeping the Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue crews busy. On Monday May 18, 2020 at 4:05 p.m. a fire was reported in the Forebay area, located above Twin Lakes in southern Lake County. According to a press release distributed by Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue (LLCFR) Public Information Officer Betty Benson, the crews responded with Engine 602 and a Tactical Tender. The fire was quickly located and determined to be on US Forest Service land and the Forest Service was contacted immediately. Lake County Sheriff deputies and St. Vincent Ambulance crews also responded and managed traffic in the area. It was the second response fire crews made to the area, the first being an incident on Saturday, May 16.
“The fire danger across the PSICC is mixed from High to Extreme,” stated Bill King, the Pike and San Isabel National Forests & Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC) fire staff officer for the land on which the fire started. “The forest and grasslands are already experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions as we are in the driest conditions at this point in the season on record. We are implementing the fire restriction on areas that may not currently meet the science-based criteria to relieve our fire responders and cooperators who must respond to all reported fires. We are seeing a high volume of pubic use and even with the existing fire restrictions, we are responding to hundreds of abandoned campfires which endanger everyone,”
So did the forest service respond to these incidents or not, residents and LT readers wanted to know?
Yes, the forest service responded,” answer Crystal Young, Public Relations Specialist for the USFS. “We have a resource that describes our participation in that fire HERE: In fact, readers can find up to date information as it becomes available for all fires under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. As for the May 16 incident, Young answered that the report says no mutual aid was requested because the fire was on private property and therefore fell under the jurisdiction of Leadville Fire Rescue.
Still, fire danger is a concern, prompting PSICC Forest Supervisor Diana M. Trujillo to sign orders yesterday, May 20 “to temporarily close developed recreation sites and restrict fire activity across the forests and grasslands until May 31, 2020, or until the orders are rescinded, whichever comes first. Restrictions remain in place to allow employees to prepare facilities, as well as time to ensure the necessary personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies are readily available. Trails, trailheads and general forest areas will remain accessible for public use.”
As the busy summer season begins, there’s little doubt that the USFS which has been slowly shifting in mission and model to adjust to wildfire mitigation and increased use has fully arrived. However long-time residents will not likely see the old zone defense in place, with each district holding its own. It’s all about partnerships and shared services. So where does that leave Lake County, after all that’s a lot of forest land? What’s the management plan for the summer?
“Just as in any fire year, we are not in this alone. Responding to wildland fire in this country is a partnership – across all levels of government. The Leadville District is working in conjunction with many county and local agencies to patrol by various means and respond to calls reporting everything from abandoned campfires to larger incidents. The Leadville District has completed seasonal hiring to ensure initial attack resources are in place and has the ability to request further resources dependent on the conditions of the fire. Readers can learn more about the forest service interagency response program HERE.
But the one thing that the forest service orders seem to have that the others at the state and local levels do not, is teeth. According to the information distributed to media outlets, on these federal lands, if you’re gathered around these campfires when you’re not supposed to be it’s, “a violation of the orders is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.”
But in the end, it all comes down to personal responsibility, especially at this early point in the warm weather season. If residents and visitors can play by the guidelines, officials will continue to ease restrictions throughout the summer. If not, get ready for more enforcement, possibly in the form of cash or incarceration. So as Lake County rolls into the first unofficial weekend of summer, with the Safer-At-Home guidelines and forest service restrictions in place, Leadville/Lake County Fire Chief Dan Dailey is asking for the public’s help:
“We are actively getting information out this week prior to the weekend. We are also going to talk with businesses about their selling of firewood and highly suggest that they don’t. I have spoken with Public works to put the road signs out as well on either end of town about the current fire bans. We will try everything that we can on our end to minimize the impact on Lake County when it pertains to fires and how they should not be any on forest service lands and BLM lands. With your help on this issue, I know that we can get some good information out to the public for campers and other fires that are happening in Lake County.”
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a digital media company that publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Stewardship Wins Every Time
This Memorial Day Weekend is the perfect time to remember that these men and women who serve the Lake County community in law enforcement, on fire crews, as first responders, they are part of the Leadville fabric. In fact, the top three officers are all long-time locals. They – and some of their crews – have built lives here; they’ve raised families here. They deserve the space to do their jobs, a place that shows them respect and a whole lot of good stewardship, especially throughout the coming months. In their honor, LT shares this Memorial Day video of the flag-raising ceremony by Leadville/Lake County Fire Rescue crew. Thank you for your service to Leadville Today!
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COVID Reports from Leadville Today
Meanwhile, Leadville Today will continue to bring readers the latest news concerning the virus and its impact on Lake County. Here is a list of stories covered thus far about COVID – 19.
- Ready or Not? Preparedness in Pbville – March 10
- The Closures. The Plan. The Truth. – March 15
- Shelter (Food & Water) from the Storm – March 17
- The 411 on the 911 in the 80461 – March 19
- Mountain Medicine: Wisdom From Above – March 21
- Paper or Plastic: On the Frontlines – March 26
- Melly Masks: Made in Leadville – March 27
- Close Quarters: Cloud City Quarantine – March 29
- Racing In The Shadows of The Coronavirus – April 2
- Twin Lakes: In Times of Need – April 5
- Triggered: A Tale of Two Broken Legs – April 16Safer-At-Home Ushers n new Month – May 1
- Benefits Ready for Contractors, Self-employed – April 21
- Testing, Tracing, Tracking at 10,200 – April 23
- Climax Reduces Production by Half thru 2020 – April 25
- DNF’d June Races Cancelled – April 29
- Safer-At-Home Ushers in New Month – May 1
- Celebrating Public Employees and Lands – May 9
- At The Crossroads of CDOT and COVID-19 – May 11
- CMC To Hold Virtual Graduation – May 13