The sides in a civil lawsuit stemming from the deaths of a Denver family from carbon monoxide poisoning in an Aspen-area home will be allowed to review grand jury testimony and evidence that led to a criminal indictment of three valley men.
The criminal charges, handed down in 2010, were dismissed in 2011 because dates on the indictment were outside the statute of limitations. But the relatives of Caroline Lofgren, 42; her husband, Parker, 39; and their children, Owen, 10, and Sophie, 8, sued 11 people and firms that worked on the Popcorn Lane home during its construction. The lawsuit over their 2008 deaths was filed in Denver District Court.
Chief Judge James Boyd of Pitkin County District Court ruled Tuesday that most of the testimony the local grand jury heard, and evidence that the secret body considered, can be used in the lawsuit.
Boyd’s ruling allows the Aspen district attorney’s office and Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office to release from their custody the Munchkin boiler and venting infrastructure that led to the Lofgrens’ deaths.
“This ruling has been long awaited,” said William Hansen, the Denver attorney for the Lofgren relatives, on Wednesday. “This was a big, long fight.”
A settlement was reached Friday with seven of the 11 defendants, he said. The monetary terms are confidential, though Hansen said they were fair and reasonable.
The remaining defendants are Marlin Brown, the owner of Glenwood Springs-based Roaring Fork Plumbing and Heating, which also remains as a defendant; and Integrity Construction Management Group, which court papers say was the general contractor during the home’s construction, and its then-principal, Jack Wheeler. He is now Pitkin County’s facilities project manager.
Brown and his company installed the boiler, and a filing in the lawsuit says that the primary factors behind the family’s deaths were “defective venting” to the boiler; the lack of ventilation in the crawl space and mechanical room where the boiler was located; and the absence of a carbon monoxide detector in the $9 million home.
The remaining entities in the lawsuit are the key defendants, Hansen said.
Noticeably absent from the grand jury materials that Boyd released are the transcripts from the other two men, Brian Pawl and Erik Peltonen, who were indicted along with Brown in 2010.
Hansen sought the grand jury testimony of Pawl and Peltonen, who at the time of the Lofgrens’ deaths were building inspectors working for both the city and county, which share such duties.
Both men took the Fifth in a deposition last year, citing the possibility of them again facing criminal prosecution or civil liability. The Pitkin County government, Peltonen and Pawl in 2011 were dismissed from the family members’ lawsuit. A judge ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the county and its employees created the danger that led to the tragedy.
Hansen changed course in his pursuit of grand jury statements made by Pawl and Peltonen after they agreed to provide deposition testimony. He filed a motion that their grand jury statements should not be released.
Because all of the criminal charges were dropped, the men “should retain their status as preemptively innocent despite being what they contend was wrongfully accused,” the motion says. Also, “there remains a legitimate concern for retribution and social stigma.”
With the men being civil servants at the time, “disclosure of such testimony would result in a future deterrent for building officials to voluntarily appear before grand juries to give testimony,” Hansen wrote.
Boyd agreed, blocking the release of their testimony. The other grand jury materials will not become public, as Boyd ruled that they can only be released to the parties involved in the lawsuit.
The suit against the remaining defendants, meanwhile, is on hold because Brown recently declared bankruptcy, Hansen said on Wednesday.
Once that matter is resolved, he said he expects the case to go to trial in May.