A 58-year-old Nebraska man who Mountain Rescue Aspen members were searching for on Saturday in the Capitol Creek Valley apparently went missing in mid May.
When Ali Lazem Kenani’s 2005 Honda Accord was found in a driveway near mile marker 8 off of Capitol Creek Road, the car was believed to be abandoned. The homeowner whose property the car was left on called police on May 12 and the vehicle was later removed, according to Jesse Steindler, patrol captain with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
“What usually happens in these kinds of cases, more often than not, is that people abandoned their cars on private property,” Steindler said, noting the sedan appeared “pretty beat up” with extensive hail damage. “At that point we had no idea the owner of the vehicle was missing.”
But Kenani, of Lincoln, Neb., was declared missing by Lincoln police on June 6. That led local officials to reexamine the case of the abandoned car, leading to last weekend’s search of a 900-acre area including public and private lands near the site where the vehicle turned up. Twenty-five personnel from Garfield County Search and Rescue, Mountain Rescue Aspen, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the United States Forest Service participated in the all-day search. Dogs and a drone team using heat-seeking technology also aided in the search, according to the press release issued Saturday. They found no clues as to Kenani’s whereabouts.
Steindler said that authorities may launch another physical search of the area today.
Two days before Kenani’s car was found 8 miles up the Capitol Creek Valley, he sought assistance from Basalt police, after apparently realizing he had made a wrong turn onto Highway 82 as he was driving on Interstate 70 toward California. Authorities later learned he was traveling cross country to visit his minor child who lives with his ex-wife.
At around 1:15 p.m. on May 10, Kenani drove up to an officer on foot patrol near the 7-11 footbridge in Basalt, according to Chief Greg Knott. Speaking very little English, he indicated that he was lost. Kenani called a friend in Nebraska who helped translate between him and Basalt police, and police helped him use a debit card he had in his possession to get cash and point him in the right direction to get back on the road to California.
“They were confident that he was straightened out and knew where he was going,” Knott said of his officers’ interaction with Kenani.
But instead, Kenani’s car was found on May 12. Steindler said that, so far, there are no clues as to how Kenani’s car ended up in the remote location in the valley he apparently never intended to visit. There is “no indication” he headed up that way for a hike, Steindler said.
At the time the car was found in mid May, Capitol Creek Road was not cleared of snow much past mile marker 8 and the driveway where the car was found was the last available turnoff before the road dead-ended into a snowbank. The trailhead accessing public lands and the trail to Capitol Lake at that time was about 1 mile past that location, buried in snow.
Steindler noted that, with the upper section of the road buried, it would be an easy mistake to make to turn up the private driveway thinking it was the road to the trailhead. But there is no indication that Kenani was attempting to make such a journey and the homeowner on whose property the car was found never saw him or had any contact with him, Steindler said.
“They just realized there was a strange car in the driveway and called us up,” Steindler said.
The case remains open and under investigation.