Life in the Fast Lane

When Spicer Breeden crashed into Greg Lopez on March 17, two worlds collided.
The ironies piled up quickly. Just a year separated Lopez and Breeden in age; the two had grown up mere miles from each other. And both men were familiar faces in Lower Downtown hangouts--although Breeden frequented the higher-end bars patronized by "trustifarians," while Lopez gravitated toward those few blue-collar joints remaining in the area. Among the hundreds of mourners at Lopez's funeral was a waitress from the Terminal Bar; a waitress from the nearby Cruise Room says Breeden once spit on her--literally.

In many ways, Lopez and Breeden could have been living in parallel universes. Lopez grew up in small-town Golden, near where his mother's family had farmed a century ago. The son of a doctor and a magazine writer and the brother of three sisters, he went to high school in Golden and got in trouble the way small-town kids do, then went on to college and off to pursue the only career he'd ever wanted to have, as a reporter. In 1990, after stints in Louisiana and Detroit, Lopez moved with his wife back to Denver, where he took up residence at the Rocky Mountain News.

Breeden's aim was never so true. Except, perhaps, when he killed himself after Lopez's death--unable, friends say, to face the enormity of what he had done.

Breeden grew up on big-money Lookout Mountain, in the Boettcher mansion built with money amassed by a dynasty that started a century ago. His grandfather, Colonel A.E. Humphreys, had died in a shooting that was ruled accidental, but he left behind a note saying, "Please, doctor, let me cash in!" The next generations proceeded to do just that. Breeden's mother, Charline, married San Francisco developer Vic Breeden in a society wedding, and together--for a while, at least--they raised their family up on Lookout Mountain. But life was far from golden. Vic was caught in the middle of a homosexual liaison in a bathroom at the Denver Zoo; Charline died of cancer when Spicer was just thirteen. After that, the family moved out and on; their home now is the Jeffco Conference and Nature Center.

Two days after Lopez's memorial service, where his widow asked the gathering to think of Breeden's family, Breeden's friends and relatives returned to the old Boettcher home to remember Spicer. In what was surely the least-thought-through testimonial ever delivered, one old buddy recalled how he and Spicer used to race their matching cars.

Witnesses estimate that Breeden's BMW was going as fast as 100 mph when it clipped Lopez's Toyota 4-Runner.

Lopez died at the scene. But the questions about what led to his death--and what followed in the two days leading to Breeden's suicide--continue to careen out of control.

On April 4, the Denver District Attorney hopes to get some answers. That's when the case goes to the grand jury--an unusual step for a hit-and-run accident. But according to Denver DA Bill Ritter, it's a step they'd take even if the victim hadn't been a beloved newspaper columnist--though the intense coverage certainly helped generate some of the early leads that pointed police to Breeden. "I'd like to think we'd pursue it in the same way no matter who it was," says Ritter. "We have unresolved questions."

Many of those questions could be answered by Peter Schmitz, who was with Breeden on St. Patrick's Day. Restaurant workers at assorted LoDo hotspots recognized the pair, and parking valets have identified Schmitz as the man who got into the passenger seat of Breeden's BMW that night--although Breeden's suicide note said he wasn't driving the vehicle.

Two days after he'd been named as Breeden's companion, Schmitz, a German national, finally showed up at the Denver Police Department to have his photo taken. But through his lawyer, Schmitz declined to answer any questions from investigators, citing his Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate himself.

Now he is slated to face a grand jury, where those rights cannot be invoked--and where prosecutors may be looking for grounds to charge Schmitz criminally.

Schmitz may not be doing much talking, but there's plenty of talk around town--particularly in LoDo, where Schmitz lived in an assortment of posh lofts and also hung out in the area's bars. Although he's an artist, Schmitz is better known for his partying than for his work. Like Breeden's, his name has surfaced in connection with drug investigations, and acquaintances tell stories about long nights fueled by alcohol and illicit goodies.

There are rumors that some of those were found in Breeden's blood after he shot himself--and drugs could help answer some of the questions that Breeden himself cannot. Why would he commit suicide if he wasn't driving the car? But if he was driving the car, why would he lie? And why would he try to take his dog along with him by shooting him twice?

Breeden's suicide note poses other puzzles. In it, he left his entire estate to Sydney Stone, a Denver woman who lives in a house Breeden owned near Cherry Creek and who managed another property for him. Stone has been in the news before: A former model, she was the seamstress who made the dresses worn by Claudine Longet when she was tried for killing skier Spider Sabich; she also made the bride's and bridesmaids' dresses for Jimmy Buffett's wedding. "I went to great parties," Stone told Westword in 1992. (At the time, she was facing charges of conspiring to sell drugs with her son, Damon, an East High graduate with a genius IQ and an even more unusual credential: At 21, he'd become the first person in U.S. history charged criminally for selling alpha-ethyltryptamine, a prescription antidepressant sold through the mail by chemical companies. Soon after Stone's story appeared in Westword, the charges were dropped.)

Breeden's last-minute will, which his family is contesting, opens another odd chapter. "Life is strange," Stone says, before passing all questions on to her lawyer.

More lawyers will be called before this investigation is done. Several of Breeden's acquaintances reportedly have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, one of the few places money does not talk--and they will have to.

But in the end, there are some questions even a grand jury cannot answer.


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