Aspen City Council is poised to approve $50,000 to fund the defense of two building inspectors charged in the deaths of a family of four from carbon monoxide poisoning.
The city’s building department is requesting the money as part of a supplemental appropriations package up for consideration at tonight’s council meeting.
Erik Peltonen, a retired building inspector with the city of Aspen, is charged with four counts of criminally negligent homicide in the case of the Lofgren family of Denver, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a home near the Northstar Nature Preserve in November 2008.
Brian Pawl, a plans examiner with Pitkin County, is charged with four counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment.
The deaths allegedly resulted from a broken pipe that was part of the home’s snowmelt system. Peltonen and Pawl allegedly oversaw the home’s inspection and permitting. Although the home is in the county, Peltonen, a city employee, worked on its permitting.
Also charged is Martin Brown, owner of Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating, which allegedly installed the system.
Pitkin County is providing matching funds for the two public employees’ defense, Aspen City Attorney John Worcester said.
Monday’s appropriation is intended to establish a fund for the defense. Peltonen and Pawl have yet to enter a plea on the charges. They were indicted by a grand jury this past summer.
City and county officials decided to pay for the defense of the building inspectors because they felt that criminalizing their work would be “a poor precedent to establish,” Worcester said.
Peltonen is being represented in the case by Denver’s Abraham Hutt, and Pawl by Jim Jenkins of Boulder and Gerald Goldstein, who practices in Texas and Colorado.
The defendants also are being sued in a civil case stemming from the incident, in which Caroline Lofgren, 42, her 39-year-old husband, Parker, and their children Sophie, 8, and Owen, 10, perished on Thanksgiving night 2008.
Pawl and Peltonen’s defense in the civil suit, which was filed by the Lofgrens’ family, is being covered by the city’s insurance carrier.
The civil suit also names the home’s owner and developer, Black Diamond Development, as well as the manufacturer of the snowmelt system and other parties that were not charged criminally.
The Denver family had won the stay at the vacation home at a charity auction. Their deaths led to new laws being passed in Colorado and other states to require carbon monoxide detectors in all homes.
Although Pitkin County codes at the time required carbon monoxide detectors in new homes, the home where the Lofgrens died allegedly did not have such a device installed.