Shortly before an avalanche near Loveland Pass killed five people, Westminster's Mark McCarron died in a Vail Pass-area slide, triggering grief for his loved ones that was compounded when authorities mentioned that he and his party had been smoking marijuana, as if this legal activity might have contributed to the accident.
Today, Mark McCarron is being laid to rest -- and his brother paints a portrait of the real man he knew while expressing anger at the way his death was portrayed.
There was a seventeen-year gap between Mark, who was 38 when he died, and his older sibling, Mike McCarron. But despite the age difference, Mike says all the McCarrons share a great deal, including a love of the outdoors.
"We're all avid rock climbers," Mike notes. "And many years ago, Mark came out here" from the Chicago area "to climb, following in the footsteps of his older brothers. We're all pretty seasoned outdoor folks, not only in the woods, but in the high country."
Indeed, McCarron rode the slopes for decades. "I bought him his first snowboard when he was in high school," Mike remembers. "He'd been doing it since he was fifteen," transitioning from the skateboarding that had occupied much of his time previously. "He was way-experienced and mountain-savvy."
For a long stretch, climbing was first among equals for Mark. "He used to run the Paradise Rock Gym, which was one of the first indoor rock-climbing gyms in the area," Mike notes. "He introduced thousands of people to the outdoor world of climbing through the gym -- gave them a way to appreciate and use the landscape around here."
But after Mark moved to a new position as a facilities manager for the city, Mike says, "he lived for snowboarding, outside of his family."
That family consisted of his wife, Donna, and two daughters, Brinna and Aislynn. Technically, Brinna was Mark's stepdaughter, but Mike stresses that he never made that distinction when it came to his unequivocal love for her. Brinna clearly feels the same way; in a note accompanying the photos she provided for this post, she took just four words to eloquently express her emotions. "He was my daddy," she wrote.
Mark worked in the evenings, giving him more time to spend with his loved ones -- especially Aislynn. Mike sums him up as a "super athlete and a loving father."
Which only made it that more painful for Mike and the entire clan when Mark's death wound up being linked to marijuana.
Continue for more about Mark McCarron. On April 18, as we reported, a group of three snowboarders accessed a backcountry area near the pass called North Ptarmigan Hill. Then, at around 1:30 p.m., an enormous avalanche was triggered; it's said to have been ten feet deep and 300 feet wide. The snowboarder with McCarron was able to escape the devastation, but McCarron was swept into a stand of trees and died as a result of his injuries.
The Eagle County Sheriff's Office subsequently provided an overview of this information, but also added this: "Detectives with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office were informed that the parties involved were under the influence of Dead-Head OG (a strain of marijuana) at the time of the incident."
In our posts, we questioned whether this information was relevant, but most other media outlets used it to frame their coverage. Does Mike think the resulting articles and report made it seem as if marijuana caused the accident?
"That's the way it came across to a lot of people," he replies. "It didn't even make much sense when you read it. Whoever releases those kinds of statements -- talk about poor judgment and lacking common sense. To say something like that without even getting all the facts straight....
"I know it hurts my folks when they read that kind of slander," he goes on, adding, "I'm mature enough where I know that had nothing to do with it. I've been smoking weed since pretty much 1975, and I'm still here. I did a lot of rock climbing will all of our brothers" -- four total, plus two sisters -- "and lighting up was part of the whole process."
Most frustrating for him is the way the focus on marijuana pulled attention away from the Mark McCarron he knew and adored.
"He was just one of the most compassionate people you'd ever meet in your life," he says. "When he was little, he was never a cry-baby, he never threw his toys. He was just a beautiful person to watch growing up, and he had a true love for life every day. He'd do anything for anybody. I know he did a lot for me over the years.
"He was awesome, a really special kid. And that's what hurts the most about him being portrayed negatively in the news about something that had no bearing on the situation whatsoever."
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Mark's funeral takes place at 11 a.m. today at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 12735 W. 58th Avenue in Arvada. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Mark McCarron Memorial Fund c/o First Bank. Click here for more details.
More from our News archive: "Mark McCarron ID'd as victim in Vail avalanche, anger over marijuana mention."