Strange but True Crime News of 2016

Even the best skier or snowboarder has been on a chairlift and had this fleeting thought: “I could fall off this thing.” That nightmare scenario became a reality for Seth Beckton in January, when Thomas Proesel pushed the snowboarder off an Aspen Highlands chairlift after Beckton made a casual comment about the abundance of snow that day. Beckton wasn’t injured, but he was so shaken by the incident that he reported it to police the next day. “I honestly thought I was dead, because I didn’t know where we were [within the lift path],” Beckton told the Aspen Times. “It’s not cool to think anyone would do that.” Proesel was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

This year, Denver police officers started wearing body cameras, which are supposed to help them in criminal investigations. But in October, the department used some footage from one of those cameras to incriminate one of its own. Police were pursuing a suspect in a shooting when he was involved in a crash. Denver officer Julian Archuleta was one of those who responded, and his body camera captured Archuleta shuffling money — including some $100 bills — that he had recovered from the suspect’s clothing while he sat in his squad car. A detective who later counted the money came up with $118 — but found no Benjamins. Not only was Archuleta arrested and suspended without pay, but the shooting suspect got off because Archuleta had tampered with evidence.

You get what you pay for — or, in this case, what you Tinder for. In January, a man was supposed to meet a woman he’d met on Tinder at a Boulder intersection; when he arrived at their pre-arranged meeting spot, a man wearing a ski mask robbed him at gunpoint of his cell phone, car keys and some cash. Not a week later, another man arranged to meet a woman he’d found on Craigslist — who’d advertised that she wanted a pot-smoking partner — at the exact same spot, and was also robbed.

In January, Aspen police arrested a man wearing a cape, sombrero and cowboy boots because he wouldn’t allow a woman to leave a bar’s bathroom stall after they had done cocaine together. The woman told police that she had gone to the bathroom when a stranger — Marco Madriz-Vergara of Glenwood Springs — invited her to do cocaine off the end of a key in the men’s restroom. When he offered her a second bump, she got “weirded out,” according to the Aspen Times (by then, mind you, she had already made it past the cape and sombrero) and tried to leave, which didn’t sit too well with Madriz-Vergara. He was charged with false imprisonment, possession of cocaine and harassment.

Super Bowl Sunday can bring out the worst in a football fan, but Kevin Riley of Colorado Springs took things a little too far. Riley had been watching TV — loudly, apparently, because his upstairs neighbor confronted him about the distraction, knocking on his door with a wooden bat. Riley opened the door, threw his neighbor to the ground and stabbed him several times. Riley was arrested, while his victim was treated at the hospital and released.

Jon Marc Barbour of Gunbarrel fed pounds — pounds! — of peanuts to squirrels at a park near his home as a way of communicating with the spirits of his dead animal-loving parents. Some of his neighbors thought his behavior was a little weird and reported it to police and animal control. Barbour got mad and posted fliers around the neighborhood, signed by “The Squirrel Guy” and condemning the haters — one of whom confronted him in May. They got into it — both called each other “white trash” — and as the neighbor was walking away, Barbour shot him in the butt. He reported himself to police and was charged with attempted murder.

Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In January, Tade was in an unmarked SUV at a busy intersection when Marlene Zacevich-Rodriguez entered through the passenger-side door and stabbed him in the leg and hand. Tade’s injuries were minor — he returned to work the next day — and the attack was deemed random. Zacevich-Rodriguez, who was “not well,” according to family members, was charged with attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault, and required a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether she was fit to stand trial.

The “Sheriff of Love” — aka Toby Fernsler, a write-in candidate for Boulder County sheriff who lost by a 99.8 percent margin in 2014 — spent about three hours in jail in January for failure to appear in court after being charged with animal cruelty. According to Fernsler, he’d had a come-to-Jesus conversation with his sickly twenty-year-old feline that he thought had convinced her it was time to go. A police officer later found her with a dirty, matted coat and a right eye socket filled with live maggots, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. Fernsler was charged, but decided he had “better things to do” than show up for court. It should be noted that two years earlier, Fernsler had run on what some would consider a hands-off platform: In his regime, sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t carry guns, and neighbors would deal with noise complaints by knocking on each others’ doors. Because he wasn’t charged with a felony, Fernsler is still eligible to run for sheriff again.

Bret Gardner of Superior tried to capitalize on the popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey series, but instead was convicted of securities fraud in August. Gardner had approached Rod Brandenburg, owner of Grandpa’s Pawn & Gun in Longmont, with an investment idea, a “Western-themed version of 50 Shades of Grey” for outdoorsmen centered on a character called Scoundrel. Brandenburg invested $250,000 in the series, which turned out to be another kind of fiction altogether.