Year in Review

Strange but True

In a year of record lows, Denver could report a new high point -- several, in fact, since the Mile High City had grown three feet taller in some places, according to the National Geodetic Survey. Those findings, made in the 1990s but just now showing up on maps, indicate that some parts of the city, including the State Capitol, are actually higher than the advertised 5,280 feet. But don't expect a new slogan anytime soon. "The Mile High City is kind of a signature name for Denver, and I think that will always remain," said mayoral spokesman Andrew Hudson. "It sounds sort of unreasonable to say the Mile High Plus Three Feet City."*

Homeland Insecurity

In December, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Deputy Albert T. Kidd was suspended without pay after it was reported that he had waited in a doughnut shop for several minutes before responding to a call about an accident with injuries. A female customer at the LaMar's shop at 6840 South University Boulevard tattled on the veteran officer, saying that when the call came in, Kidd -- who was on a break at the time -- acknowledged it but continued to chat with a female friend for several minutes. D'oh! Reached for comment by a reporter, the 51-year-old Kidd said, "I pride myself in being a good cop." A 69-year-old woman at the accident scene was treated for minor injuries; no word on whether any gooey baked goods were impounded as evidence.

A former King Soopers security guard was sentenced to six years in prison for forcing a teenage girl to have sex with him after he caught her shoplifting $3.77 worth of merchandise. Augustine Anthony Garcia, a 34-year-old guard working at the Edgewater store, was convicted of soliciting child prostitution and extortion. According to officials, he told a sixteen-year-old girl that the only way she could avoid jail was intercourse. He then took the girl in his office, showed her his badge -- and pulled out something other than his pistol.

In January, a school science project titled "How to Build a Bomb" backfired on a Kiowa High School student when an anonymous caller tipped off police. While students grumbled, authorities scrambled to dismantle the display; although it could not be detonated, police said it contained all the necessary ingredients for a bomb. A science teacher who'd overseen the seventeen-year-old's work was placed on paid leave, and school officials announced that future science projects would be given closer scrutiny. Legally, the case proved a dud: In June, the district attorney declined to file any charges.

Air Force Academy cadet Matt Bayless was ready to fight for his country, but he didn't anticipate a battle over a dirty bomb. After a roommate circulated sexually explicit photographs of Bayless that he'd found on Bayless's computer, Air Force brass ordered that Bayless be "disenrolled" and repay approximately $121,000 to the Air Force for his education. But the 26-year-old fought back, arguing that the pictures were intended for a girlfriend, and won a reprieve. The ex-Zoomie won't have to fork over any dough, but he's now under orders to serve three years as an enlisted man. And he won't be graduating from the Colorado Springs institution, in -- or out of -- his uniform.

Less than six months after the 9/11 attacks, former Denver police chief Tom Sanchez -- exiled to Denver International Airport after an earlier scandal -- and some of the officers he supervised there were busted by a Channel 4 investigation that showed cops loafing in a DIA lounge intended for paramedics, sometimes for hours at a time. Councilman Ed Thomas called the offense a violation "of public trust during a time of national emergency." Sanchez was reassigned -- again -- this time to the police academy.

DIA's entire A Concourse was evacuated after a passenger "accidentally" kicked loose a metal-detector power plug, according to the now-grounded Argenbright security firm. The problem wasn't noticed for about six minutes, by which time about eighty passengers had gone through the dormant screening device. Because of the security breach, all passengers on the concourse had to be rescreened.

Rich Wyatt, a candidate for Jefferson County sheriff, posted a $100,000 bounty on the head of Osama bin Laden. The only catch -- other than snagging the elusive terrorist -- was that the successful bounty hunter must use a weapon from Gunsmoke Custom Gunsmithing in Wheat Ridge. The offer, first announced last spring in an ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine, still stands, even though Wyatt's sheriff's race fell flat.

The Best Defense...

The wheels of justice sometimes get squeaky, and freaky -- especially in local courtrooms this past year, which "seem to have had an unusual number of outbursts," says Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office.

Exhibit A: In March, 25-year-old Robert Bodison was not pleased when a jury of his peers in Denver District Court found him guilty of first-degree murder -- and shared his displeasure by hurling a water pitcher in their direction. The quick-thinking jurors ducked, and the vessel shattered on the wall above the jury box. No harm, no foul -- except to Bodison's original victim.

Exhibit B: In April, 27-year-old Abe Hagos was irked when a Denver District Court judge pronounced his sentence for first-degree murder. Hagos shared his displeasure by turning over the defense table with his shackled hands, then rushing toward the prosecution side. Stunned witnesses watched as Hagos succeeded in socking one prosecutor -- who suffered a black eye -- before Denver sheriff's deputies wrestled him to the ground and subdued him with a taser gun. Early release for this fellow looks like a long shot.

Red Leroy Harris, an enraged Grand Junction grandfather ticked off that a kindergartner had made an obscene gesture at him from a school bus, allegedly followed the bus in his truck, waited at the next stop, then climbed aboard to confront the culprit. In the melee that followed, one student hit his head on a metal bar, and four others were shaken by Harris, according to the Mesa County District Attorney's Office. Harris, who opted for a trial in December, pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of endangering public transportation and criminal trespass, as well as three misdemeanor counts of child abuse and harassment.

All Politics Is Personal

Greeley's Reverend David Meek didn't live up to his name when he delivered an anti-abortion prayer to the Colorado Senate last March. Although the benediction is supposed to be largely ceremonial, Meek took the opportunity to ask for divine help in overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal. As a beatific bonus, he asked lawmakers to accept Jesus. "That wasn't a prayer," state senator Stephanie Takis, a Commerce City Democrat, complained to a reporter. "I felt he used it for his own political views." Fellow senator Dave Owen, the Greeley Republican who'd invited the pastor of Glad Tidings Church to address his colleagues, apologized.

Legislators cracked down on press access to the Colorado House floor after a posse of Johnny Deadline wannabes claiming to be reporters disrupted a January hearing. While lawmakers debated a bill that would allow a jury to decide whether a person was fit to be a parent, several individuals blocked doorways and sang "God Bless America" -- typical reporter behavior. Supposedly reputable members of the Fourth Estate must now carry credentials from either the Colorado Press Association or the Colorado Broadcasters Association before they're allowed to get close to the legislative action.

A move to make March 9 "Frozen Dead Guy Day" in Colorado was killed off when Democratic members of the House failed to see the humor in representative Tom Plant's motion, and House Speaker Doug Dean declared the proposal dead. Plant, who represents tiny Nederland, had hoped to draw attention to that town's "Frozen Dead Guy Days," an event commemorating Norwegian Bredo Morstoel, who's been on ice for over a decade. But even without official recognition, Nederland drew several hundred people to its parade honoring the man whose body is preserved in a Tuff Shed.

Colorado Department of Transportation director Tom Norton was caught drinking on the job this year: He swallowed a CDOT cooler -- magnesium chloride diluted with water -- to prove that the state's de-icer was harmless. (Of course, the drink was 500 parts water to one part chloride.) A businessman who joined Norton for the chug-a-lug said the cocktail tasted like hydrogen peroxide. We'll take ours with salt around the edges.

CSAP=Colorado Schools Acting Poorly

Aspen, always on the lookout for ways to protect its residents from the dangers of life its own self, decided to ban coffee, tea and carbonated soda from its high school starting in 2005. In a three-to-one vote, the school board declared that caffeine-loaded drinks will no longer be available, although herbal teas will still pass muster. Don't expect to see Hunter S. Thompson at any PTO meetings.

Elizbeth Chapman, the mother of an eight-year-old "boy genius," was put in court-ordered treatment last spring after she admitted fabricating various feats -- including her son's supposedly perfect math SATs.

The Animal Kingdom

Richard L. Barber of Aurora had been warned about keeping Monty, an eleven-foot-long Burmese python, in his home, but he loved the pet. And Monty apparently shared those very strong feelings. The snake put the squeeze on 43-year-old Barber -- a safety engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation -- and killed him. It took seven rescuers to peel the snake off of Barber's neck. One Aurora firefighter, who wrestled with Monty, said it was "like being squeezed by a hydraulic arm." City officials subsequently noted that it is illegal to have a pet snake longer than six feet in Aurora.

Federal officials investigated the Denver Zoo on charges that it had allowed two Asiatic black bears, Sherpa and Moktan, to fight for years -- until Sherpa finally suffered a crushed throat in one of the scuffles and died. Zoo officials expressed surprise that the bears, which had been penned together for fourteen years, would engage in fatal combat -- but a government vet found records of three dozen fights occuring in just ten months. According to one USDA medical officer, it was "a serious case of incompatibility." The feds fined the zoo $700 for keeping animals in an unsafe condition.

An ostrich rancher in southwest Colorado was sentenced to five years in prison for growing 270 marijuana plants in a hidden basement. John Mark Willden, 41, was sentenced in April following an investigation by the FBI and the Southwest Colorado Drug Task Force. No word on the tipsters, but the birds reportedly kept their heads in the sand.

Residents of an assisted-living center in Littleton began looking forward to visits by Pisco, a llama. The animal is one of eight certified llama therapists in this country.

Two decades ago, cattle mutilations were the talk of Colorado. This year, a string of baffling pet mutilations -- cats, rabbits and the occasional squirrel -- have stretched near and fur in the Denver area. According to authorities, someone -- or something -- has been surgically removing the animals' internal organs, then leaving the carcass to be found near its owner's home. So far, canines have escaped the carnage. "Either they just don't like dogs, or they can't catch 'em," said one Aurora animal-hospital worker.

Quick, Call a Referee!

Joining in what's become a national frenzy, about thirty parents started fighting at a youth hockey match at the Family Sports Arena in Arapahoe County last January. The scuffle broke out during a game between fifteen- to seventeen-year-old kids, after one "slashed" another on the ankle and that boy's parents complained. The verbal exchange led to a brawl too big to contain in the arena's penalty box.

The Jesus Run, organized by a Highlands Ranch ministry of the same name, sent out a call for world-class runners for a June race in Denver. As a further inducement, race director Rob Sigmon promised to establish a marathon and 12K Jesus Run Israel around the Sea of Galilee. But problems bedeviled the local event from the start. One runner complained that the course was confusing, and others ratted off participants for running distances other than what they signed up for. And a top competitor, who said he was promised prize money for finishing second in a half-marathon, claimed he never got his $500 prize. Jesus Run ministries has since laid off its paid staff. It the race makes a comeback, it will be a miracle.

For the first time in the history of the 24-hour Aspen ski race, the December event tested solo racers rather than pairs of skiers taking turns as a team. So ex-Olympian Casey Puckett and other athletes took their whacks at Ajax -- again and again and again. As winner of the race, Puckett pocketed $10,000 and came away with a new appreciation for endurance skiing. "I think anyone who enters this race is absolutely nuts," he told the Rocky Mountain News minutes after completing the torture session. "I just don't get it."

It was a joyous year for Gary Barnett, coach of the CU Buffs. No, not on the gridiron, where the team fared well until it faced the really tough eleven from Oklahoma and decided that the best way to riot-proof the campus was to fold. But off the field, barnstorming Barnett -- who ditched Northwestern for Boulder -- was granted a five-year contract extension worth $8 million. Citing CU's current penny-pinching state, one English professor got out his thesaurus and proclaimed the decision "obscene." Responded CU Board of Regents chairwoman Susan Kirk, "The issue is not whether it is appropriate to be paying that amount of money to a football coach when your mission is education." Give that woman an incomplete in logic.

Rocky, the city's highest-profile sports mascot, was jailed on allegations that he'd harassed his ex-wife. The popular mascot with the lightning tail was sidelined for three Nuggets games (leaving the team without its best performer) until he was reinstated by management. Rocky's alter ego, 36-year-old Kenn A. Solomon, faces a formal arraignment in Arapahoe County in January on one felony count of trespassing and one misdemeanor count of harassment.

The team he works for could be charged with more serious offenses.

Gone but Not Forgotten

Linda Boreman, who as Linda Lovelace starred in the porn classic Deep Throat, died in a car accident near Highlands Ranch. At the time of her death, Boreman, 53, had repudiated the movie and become a crusader against smut, saying an abusive husband forced her to make the film.

Neil Murdoch arrived in Crested Butte in 1974 and quickly earned a reputation as a visionary for pushing the sport of mountain biking. His ability to transform old Schwinn bikes into fat-tire machines with ultra-low gears that could conquer ski terrain became the stuff of legend. But something went flat in 1998, when a sheriff's deputy found that Murdoch was using the Social Security number of a Pennsylvania man. Soon after, Murdoch and one of his cycles disappeared in the Four Corners area -- and two weeks later the town threw him a going-away party in absentia, enshrining his mug in the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame. In September 2001, a U.S. marshal tracked Murdoch down in Taos; he's been wanted since 1973 for jumping bail in Albuquerque after being caught with 26 pounds of cocaine. Last spring, the 61-year-old Murdoch -- whose real name is Richard Bannister -- pleaded guilty to federal charges of trafficking cocaine and failure to appear. Those fat-tired bikes can get you out of tough places, but not Murdoch's current fix.

Out of the ashes of the Missionary Ridge fires near Durango emerged Colorado's man of the year: Fred Finlay. The self-employed carpenter was given major exposure with a photo on the cover of the June 24 Rocky Mountain News, which showed Finley seated while holding his cat, Twitchy, and not keeping a very good handle on a certain portion of his anatomy. Although the News subsequently claimed that "an unfortunate convergence of shadows" had "left the false impression with some readers that it showed something that clearly didn't belong in a family newspaper, a man's testicle," Finlay himself clarified that the item in question was exactly that.

*These accounts were compiled from reports in local media outlets, including Westword.

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Ernie Tucker
Contact: Ernie Tucker