NEWS: Friday May 28, 2010

May 28th @ 11:06 am in News by Scott Staley

Beaver Fire Update::Fire crews continue to secure the perimeter of the Beaver Fire.  The fire weather during the last few days has been a good test to determine that the fire crews’ efforts should keep the fire from growing.  There is a Red Flag Warning in the area again today due to warm weather, low relative humidity and gusty winds. However, officials do not anticipate the warning to affect the fire’s size. As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, the recent increase in fire activity around the country provides a good reminder to be cautious with all fire in the outdoors.

On Saturday the Rocky Mountain Type II Incident Management Team-B will transition the incident to a Type III fire management organization.  Throughout today members of the Type III organization will shadow with members of Todd Pechota’s team.  “One of our main objectives is to transition this incident in a smooth and safe manner.  It has been a pleasure working with the Norwood Ranger District, Uncompahgre Field Office, all participating agencies and the Norwood community” stated Incident Commander Todd Pechota.

In fire, we all work together. Local, state, tribal and federal firefighters all work together around the nation to keep the public safe and natural resources protected. Pooling our strengths, resources and experience improves our effectiveness and keeps costs down.

On behalf of the entire Rocky Mountain Type II Incident Management Team-B, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of the agencies, community members, business owners and residents for their patience and hospitality.  Your kindness is greatly appreciated.

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Beaver Fire Statistics at a Glance:
Time/Date Started:  May 22, 2010 approximately 3:00 p.m.
Location: Norwood, Colorado
Cause: Downed Power Line
Estimated Cost: $1,152,418
Fuels: Pinyon-Juniper, mixed conifer, grass-sage
Size: 2,610 acres
Containment: 70%
Injuries: one minor knee injury
Resources Committed: 4 type one crews, 1 type two crew, 1 type one helicopter, 1 type three helicopter, 11 engines, 1 dozer, 2 water tenders, 275 personnel
Source: Press Release   (Posted 11:29a)

Melissa Marie Lockhart, age 32, formerly of Fruita, Colorado, was charged by Information today with one count of being an accessory after the fact to the crime of aggravated animal cruelty. Lockhart then pled guilty to the one count Information before U.S. District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer.  Judge Brimmer set a sentencing date for Lockhart of September 17, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.  After the conclusion of the change of plea hearing, Lockhart was released on bond.

Melissa Marie Lockhart was originally charged by Criminal Complaint, a probable cause charging document, on December 30, 2009.  She was then indicted by a federal grand jury in Denver on January 25, 2010.  She was charged and pled guilty today to a one count Information.  An Information is a charging document where the defendant waives their Constitutional right to be indicted by a federal grand jury.

According to the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, in the early morning hours of December 30, 2009, a mixed-breed dog named “Buddy,” who belonged to a Delta, Colorado family, was found dead on the Colorado National Monument.  Buddy had been dragged to his death behind a red pickup truck driven by Steven Clay Romero, Lockhart’s brother, who lives in Grand Junction, Colorado.   Buddy, and another dog owned by the victim, had been taken from the Delta area the morning before Buddy’s death by Lockhart.  Lockhart and Romero took the dogs to Lockhart’s home in Fruita, where she resided with her husband and children.  At the time they were taken, the dogs were healthy, clean and well-fed.

All parties left the home for a period of time on December 29, 2009.  Later that evening, Lockhart and Romero returned and discovered the remains of their kitten in Lockhart’s home.  Blaming Buddy for the death, Romero took Buddy to the Monument in the back of a pickup truck, tied a rope around his neck and to the truck, and drove up hill.  Buddy died of internal hemorrhaging consistent with a dragging death.

After Buddy was dead, Romero cut the rope and left the Monument, leaving Buddy’s remains on the side of the road.

Police in Delta began an investigation into the dog theft, as Park Rangers from Monument independently investigated Buddy’s death.  Through an eye witness, Delta police identified Lockhart as the person who had left a Delta business parking lot with the two dogs.  As the investigation continued, Delta police officers conducted a number of conversations and interviews with Lockhart.  During one such conversation, Lockhart said that she took the dogs because they were in an abandoned house.  The eye witness has stated that the dogs were loose, having gotten out of the back of another pickup truck, and were playing with Lockhart’s children while Lockhart was seeing Dr. Sam Jahani.  The dogs were then put in Lockhart’s car, and she drove away.  The witness wrote down Lockhart’s license plate number.

Lockhart later stated she had taken the dogs to her grandfather’s residence in Delta, and left them there, though she was unable to give the police the address or coherent directions to the residence.  Officers were able to eventually locate Lockhart’s grandfather’s residence.  The grandfather said he knew nothing about the dogs.  Fruita police determined that a neighbor had complained the day before Buddy’s death about howling dogs in the Lockhart townhouse.  Officers responded, but found no one home.  They did see two dogs through the window.

On December 30, 2009, Lockhart accompanied her brother’s girlfriend to a parking lot in Grand Junction.  Fruita Police Department, Grand Junction Police Department, and Park Rangers were present.  Lockhart was approached by police and told that she would be charged in Delta with the theft of the dogs.  When given an opportunity to make a statement, Lockhart repeated her false story picking up two dogs that had been abandoned, and were at her house, until one ran away.

According to Romero’s girlfriend, the morning after Buddy was killed she met with Romero and Lockhart to plan what would be said to police.  All knew that Romero had killed Buddy, and the intended to protect Romero from possible prosecution by lying about the events in question.

As a result of Lockhart’s guilty plea, she faces not more than 18 months in federal prison.

The case was investigated by The National Park Service, which is a division of the Department of Interior, the Delta Police Department, the Fruita Police Department, the Grand Junction Police Department, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Romero and Lockhart are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer.
Source: Press Release   (Posted 11:06a)