The El Jebel man rescued near Highlands Bowl on Sunday evening was identified Monday as the same person who is charged with arson for allegedly having a role in starting the Lake Christine Fire in July.
After the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office reported the rescue by Aspen Highlands Ski Patrol and Mountain Rescue Aspen of Richard Miller, 23, multiple people online criticized him on MRA’s Facebook page and elsewhere, saying he had again endangered lives — one person said he was saved near Highlands by people his alleged actions on July 3 had displaced.
Shortly after the fire ignited at the Lake Christine gun range, Miller denied to law enforcement that he and his girlfriend, Allison Marcus, had been using incendiary tracer rounds, which are prohibited at the range, according to his arrest warrant. Although he quickly reversed course and said they had been using the rounds, with bone-dry tinder nearby amid drought conditions, he and Marcus pleaded not guilty in January to felony charges of arson and setting a woodland on fire. His trial is set for May. The blaze destroyed three homes, burned 12,600 acres and nearly overwhelmed Basalt, El Jebel and Missouri Heights.
On Sunday, Miller was snowboarding with two other people when he became separated from them around 12:30 p.m. in an area near Highlands Bowl called Child’s Play, according to a sheriff’s office press release.
When the other skiers hadn’t heard from Miller three hours later, they reported the incident to ski patrol. Aspen Highlands patrollers searched the ski area boundary lines, looking for ski tracks that may have indicated the skier had skied out-of-bounds, a press release says. After an extensive boundary search, patrollers focused their search in an area of the Highlands Bowl known as the G Zones.
Unable to locate Miller in the G Zones, ski patrol alerted the sheriff’s office, which mobilized 19 volunteer members of Mountain Rescue Aspen to help with the search.
During the search, Miller was able to call 911 on his cell phone. He had skied beyond the ski area boundary into an area known as “R 1.” After the 911 call, patrollers contacted Miller, who was about 300 vertical feet below the ski area boundary.
Using headlamps amid darkness and heavy snow, patrollers and Mountain Rescue Aspen members skied down to Miller, reaching him around 6:45 p.m. Miller, who wasn’t equipped with an avalanche beacon or any other safety equipment, was uninjured, the release says.
“Teams boot-packed and stomped a path for Miller to travel back uphill to the ski area boundary,” the release says. “Back in the ski area boundary, rescuers and Miller skied to the bottom of the ski area without incident. All rescuers were out of the field around 8:30 p.m.
During Sunday’s search and rescue, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center had issued an avalanche warning, noting that avalanche conditions near and above treeline were “high,” meaning there are “very dangerous avalanche conditions and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.”
It was not clear Monday if Miller had intentionally gone into the area where he was found.
Regardless, on MRA’s Facebook page, a person wrote that “this kiddo apparently likes putting others lives at risk. Some of the people searching for him [Sunday] were the same who were displaced for weeks last summer or fought the consequences of his actions.”
A message left with Miller’s attorney was not returned.