The parents of a Snowmass Village man who died in an accidental fall from the Maroon Creek Bridge in 2010 have dropped their lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) without a settlement.
CDOT and the parents of George Aldrich Jr., who sued the agency in November for wrongful death, filed on Wednesday a joint notice to dismiss the case in Pitkin County District Court.
The Colorado attorney general’s office, which represented CDOT in the case, said in a February motion that it needed more time to respond to the lawsuit because the sides were working to resolve “this case without the need for further litigation.”
Stacey Stegman, CDOT’s public relations director, said there was not a settlement in the case and that the family had withdrawn the lawsuit.
Paula Aldrich, George’s mother, said that she and George Sr., his father, “had a 25 percent chance of winning the case and to add insult to injury we would have been liable for [Colorado] lawyers.
“We don’t have that type of money, as it took so much to search for him,” she said in an email. “We never thought we would win, we just would have never forgiven ourselves if we didn’t try to seek justice. If you are a parent I am sure you understand.”
Aldrich fell an estimated 100 feet through a narrow gap between the new bridge and the old, historically designated span. CDOT has since installed a sturdy steel-wire safety mesh between the structures.
Aldrich, 28, was new to the Roaring Fork Valley, having arrived less than a month before his death to work as a lift operator at the Snowmass Ski Area.
After drinking with friends, he boarded a bus on the night of Nov. 27, 2010. Video footage from the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority shows Aldrich getting off a bus by himself near the Truscott affordable housing complex. Authorities have speculated that he might have thought he had arrived at the Brush Creek intercept lot.
He then apparently walked back toward town on Highway 82 before falling through a 16-inch gap between the new Maroon Creek bridge and its predecessor, a span built in 1888 that was left in place because of its historic nature.
There is no pedestrian access on the new bridge’s south side, where Aldrich fell, and he could have been trying to get to the old span to avoid traffic rushing past just inches away.
“We will never know what really happened,” Paula Aldrich said. “I honestly think he jumped out of the way of traffic, but according to [CDOT] that bridge is safe.”
Joe Elsen, CDOT’s regional program engineer, sent a letter to the city of Aspen in February 2011 about the installation of the safety mesh. He wrote that the Maroon Creek Bridge meets all federal and state requirements.
Despite extensive searches, Aldrich’s body was not found until roughly two weeks later. About four months after his death, CDOT installed the steel safety net.
CDOT, “by routine inspections, was aware or should have been aware that a fence along the edge of the old bridge in the area of [Aldrich’s] fall had sagged, but did not repair the fence,” the lawsuit says. “It was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant that the pairing of the new and old bridges, and failure to maintain the barriers on each, would create a dangerous condition.”
Wednesday’s filing says both sides agree to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs are barred from filing another lawsuit based on the same claim. Each side is to pay its own attorney fees and court costs.
Stegman said there was nothing positive about the outcome of the lawsuit.
“We at CDOT remain very sad that Mr. Aldrich died in the way he did, and we wish the family the very best in their healing,” she said. “This was just one of those tragic occurrences that you never anticipate.”
Paula Aldrich said she believes the coroner report about her first-born son’s blood-alcohol level being elevated was incorrect. If he was drunk, the bar he was at should have put him in a free, Tipsy Taxi to get home, she said.
“I am glad the mesh is in place, I thank God my beautiful 28-year-old son was found, and I thank God for my Aspen angels who have given us strength through this,” she said. “We also planted a tree in Aspen, have a bench in Snowmass at the bottom of his lift, scholarships at his college, but parents should never bury a child.”