Aspen resident and restaurateur Scott DeGraff was found dead Thursday morning in an apparent suicide, police said.
The Aspen Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a home in east Aspen at 5:30 a.m. because of a carbon monoxide alarm going off inside the residence. Emergency responders could not gain entry to the home, which appeared dark and quiet with no cars in the driveway, and left.
“There were no signs of suspicious activity,” according to an Aspen Police Department press release.
Around 8 a.m., first responders received a call from the home’s owner. Police and firefighters returned to the home where they found DeGraff’s body in a car in the garage.
“Preliminary indications are that the death is a result of suicide,” says the release, issued around noon on Thanksgiving Day.
An autopsy is expected to be performed today to determine the official cause of death. DeGraff was 47.
Raised in Chicago, DeGraff built a successful business opening and operating restaurants and nightclubs in Chicago and Las Vegas before coming full time to Aspen. In December 2008, he opened Junk/Liquid Sky in Snowmass Base Village, and took over the Hyman Avenue mall space previously occupied by the Cooking School of Aspen. He was also named the new tenant of the Red Onion, an Aspen institution since the mining days. He planned to open a concept called Junk at the Red Onion after an extensive renovation to the building.
By the end of the 2008-09 winter, DeGraff had run into financial trouble. He was evicted from his space because of nonpayment of rent in Snowmass Base Village, which by then had seen construction halt on the planned 1 million-square-foot development. A judgment against DeGraff was awarded to the building’s contractor for $703,000 in 2010, and mechanic’s liens on the property total more than $793,000. A case related to the Junk/Liquid Sky debts is still pending in district court.
Things went south with the Red Onion in summer 2009, when the lease between DeGraff and the building owners was terminated. An architecture firm won a $117,136 judgment against DeGraff’s companies. A different operator reopened the space in summer 2010.
In the cooking school space, DeGraff operated N9NE steakhouse, until that restaurant closed in the spring of 2010. Later that summer, a business that was 99 percent owned by DeGraff’s wife sought to open Junk at the Mill Street mall space formerly occupied by D-19. Because of DeGraff’s 1 percent ownership in the company, the Aspen Liquor License Authority and then City Council denied the restaurant a liquor license, citing a 2000 Illinois civil case that resulted in a judgment against DeGraff. The boards were lobbied to deny the license by contractors who said DeGraff owed them money. The company divested itself of DeGraff’s interest and was granted a liquor license. Junk remains in operation.
DeGraff also filed for personal bankruptcy protection last summer.
He leaves behind a wife and two school-aged children.
In light of this death, Aspen Police would like to remind citizens of the numerous resources that exist in the community to help people who may be feeling sad, lonely, angry, or hopeless. The Aspen Hope Center has a 24-hour hot line, 970 925 5858, that is that is available if you or a loved one is in need of help.