Justice served in Sigg case, senator resigned

Posted 12/30/13

From justice served in the case of a murdered little girl, to the recall of a state senator, 2013 brought a variety of news to the community of Westminster. Below is a list of the top ten stories of 2013 in no particular order.

Sigg …

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Justice served in Sigg case, senator resigned


From justice served in the case of a murdered little girl, to the recall of a state senator, 2013 brought a variety of news to the community of Westminster. Below is a list of the top ten stories of 2013 in no particular order.

Sigg sentencing

Last year it was the murder of a 10-year-old girl that shocked the north metro area, and this year it was the conviction of Austin Sigg to life in prison that brought needed justice to not only the community of Westminster, but to the entire state of Colorado.

On Nov. 19, Jefferson County District Court Chief Judge Stephen Munsinger sentenced 18-year-old Sigg to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 40 years, plus an additional 86 years for the kidnapping and murder of Jessica Ridgeway. Although Sigg is eligible for parole, due to the sentencing of the 14 other counts, he will live the rest of his life behind bars.

The sentencing came after one and half days of testimony and comments from Jessica Ridgeway’s family. After the conclusion, District Attorney Pete Weir said he was pleased with the outcome and thought the judge’s sentence was thoughtful and appropriate.
Just days before trial was set to begin, Sigg had a change of heart and changed his initial “not guilty” plea, to guilty on all counts relieving both the Ridgeway and Sigg families the heartache of reliving the day Sigg kidnapped and murdered Jessica Ridgeway.

During the sentencing hearing, Sarah Ridgeway, Jessica’s mother, chose not to address the case or the crime. She simply said, “I am not saying anything because the defendant doesn’t deserve to hear how this has affected me emotionally. I will not remember him after I walk out these doors, I’ll only remember Jessica and her legacy.”

Sigg chose not to make a statement to the judge before or after his sentencing, and his family members present also did not approach the judge.

Jessica disappeared on Oct. 5, 2012 on her way to school in Westminster. Her disappearance marked a massive search effort involving law enforcement agencies and volunteers. Parts of her body were found in Arvada and later in Sigg’s home. Sigg admitted to kidnapping and murdering Jessica to his mother before law enforcement was called. He was arrested on Oct. 23, 2012.

Hudak recall and election

Sen. Evie Hudak, who resigned Nov. 27 in the midst of a potential recall, became the third democratic legislator to lose their office following their support of new gun control legislation.

Following a meeting in Westminster, the appointment committee selected Arvada councilwoman Rachel Zenzinger to take Hudak’s place. Zenginger was sworn in Dec. 13, though she will face a new election in 2014 if she wants to hold on to the seat.

Jail cap

The Adams County sheriff and police chiefs are at an impasse regarding the amount of municipal inmates that should be housed at the county jail.

Thornton, Westminster, Aurora, Commerce City and Brighton police chiefs aired public safety concerns related to inmates being turned away from the Adams County jail during a press conference May 28 at the Thornton Police Department. Sheriff Doug Darr responded with his own press conference May 29.

Darr said that budget cuts and hiring restrictions made by the board of county commissioners a couple years ago impacted the jail staffing.

The cap restriction, which began on Jan. 1, 2012, stood at 30 and was divided among nine municipalities based on their population in Adams County.

The caps, set by Sheriff Doug Darr, were as follows: Thornton, eight; Westminster, five; Aurora and Commerce City, four apiece; Northglenn and Brighton, three each; and one each for Federal Heights, Arvada and Bennett.
The commissioners unanimously approved during its April 15 meeting to rescind the caps placed on the number of inmates sent by cities to the county jail. However, the jail did turn away inmates in May.

Aurora Chief Dan Oates at the May 28 press conference that these prisoners were sentenced for crimes that included shoplifting, trespassing, misdemeanor battery, motor vehicle theft and prostitution and all had a criminal history.

The sheriff disputed the claim that he released violent offenders into the community, saying that in the past he’s seen inmates sentenced to jail for petty offenses such as obscene language, open container and one person who was sentenced for 360 days for loitering.

September floods damage parts of Adams County

While Adams County didn’t experience the amount of damage other cities did during the flooding in September 2013, some repairs may take a few years.

Parts of northern Adams County were affected by the flooding including Riverdale Golf Course and the Regional Park. Rich Neumann, communications manager with Adams County, said the gulch that runs through those two areas caused flooding and erosion in several places including the newly created reservoirs between the Regional Park and 120th Avenue. The Regional Park shop was also flooded as well as the Riverdale Golf Shop.

“All combined, the county’s estimated damage at the Park is about $637,000. This figure does not include any damages at the golf course—only the Regional Park,” he said. “The Golf Shop is still determining their damages.”

Even after slowed rain, Neumann said parts of Colorado Boulevard between State Highway 7 and 168th Avenue remained closed due to significant damage to the road surface and foundation. Additional damage also occurred at retention ponds, parks and trails.
As for the cost facing the county in terms of road and bridge damage, Neumann said the county is estimating around $400,000 for repairs, which is only a preliminary cost estimate as teams are working to gather more information to compile a more comprehensive estimate.

City takes steps toward development of Westminster Center

The city of Westminster hosted two open houses displaying the draft plans for the new downtown on the site of the former Westminster Mall in September 2013, giving residents the opportunity to put their two cents in on what they thought of the plans.

The plans, which includes multistory office and residential buildings, unique public space and vibrant shopping areas, were initially revealed to city council and the community on Aug. 26. The city is working closely with urban planning firm Torti Gallas and Partners to design the 105-acre space at US 36 and Sheridan Boulevard, and full build-out will take 20 to 30 years. Before beginning the planning process, the city hosted an open house last year to gain input and knowledge on what the community wants to see out of their downtown.

“We took all the suggestions and comments from the first open house as well as the comments and vision of city council and staff to come up with the design,” city planning manager Mac Cummins said . “We think we have a win-win-win here. The plan is a combination of public outreach and discussion with city council and what we came up with is a cultural gathering place.”

Cummins said key components of the development include land uses, public parks and plazas, multimodal circulation and access to transit, urban design, development flexibility and taking advantage of the views from the Front Range and the views in the actual downtown area.

Work begins on Interstate 25 toll lanes

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) began work on the I-25 project Oct. 7 that creates a high occupancy vehicle (HOV) tolled express lanes from U.S. 36 to 120th Avenue. The project, which is expected to be completed in October 2015, calls for the construction of six miles of a new managed lane in each direction. This work includes lowering I-25 at the 88th Avenue bridge to meet clearance regulations, repaving of the road and installing approximately 3,700 feet of new concrete noise walls.

Some of the work will require CDOT to switch traffic on either side and there will be a public campaign to alert motorists of what to expect. The express lanes will be separated from the general purpose lanes by solid white lines instead of barriers. There will be designated ingress and egress zones situated between each interchange so motorists can get in and out of the managed lanes easily, Stratton said.

Although CDOT does not have pricing information at this time on transponders, HOVs using the managed lanes will be required to have one.

Right now to be designated as a high occupancy vehicle, there must be at least two passengers in the vehicle. That number increased to three in 2017.

The project has $59.3 million in total funding, made possible through a mixture of federal, state and local contributions. The funding: $15 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, $30.33 million from other federal funds, $8.7 million from the state, $1.75 million from Thornton, $1.5 million from Adams County, $750,000 from the Regional Transportation District (RTD), $550,000 from Northglenn, $500,000 from Westminster, $150,000 from Federal Heights, $50,000 from Broomfield and $25,000 from Weld County.

To keep updated on the project, visit CDOT's project page.

2013 mayor and city council election

The November 2013 election welcomed a new Westminster mayor and three new city council members. Herb Atchison was elected mayor, beating out current councilman Bob Briggs and former councilwoman Mary Lindsey. He earned 41 percent of the votes.
After his victory, Atchison said he was looking forward to the next four years, hoping to get some movement forward in the city including the development of the former mall site.

The three open council seats were filled by Emma Pinter, Bruce Baker and Alberto Garcia, taking over the spots left by Mary Lindsey, Mark Kaiser and Scott Major, who’s terms ended in November 2013.

With Atchison’s election to mayor, an appointment of a councilor by city council was required to avoid a special election. On Dec. 9, council unanimously appointed Anita Seitz as the newest member to represent the city for the next two years, filling the vacant seat created by Atchison’s election to mayor. Seitz was up against 13 other people who applied for the seat, each person interviewed by city council a week before the official vote.

During a Dec. 2 study session, council discussed the candidates and took an unofficial poll to gain a consensus on the top two candidates council was leaning towards. Seitz and David Aragoni were unofficially polled as the top two candidates. Another poll was taken between Seitz and Aragoni and although Seitz name was not said, it was clear who the council chose as their top candidate in the unofficial vote.

During city council meeting, no discussion was done before or after the official vote. After Seitz was sworn in by Westminster Municipal Judge John Stipech, she immediately took her seat, the meeting was adjourned and council reconvened as the Westminster Economic Development Authority.

Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park dedication

With the sun shining bright and children laughing, the community of Westminster and the Ridgeway family celebrated the dedication of the Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 the one-year anniversary of Jessica Ridgeway’s disappearance.

Hundreds of people wearing purple, Jessica’s favorite color, came together to honor the life of Jessica and her legacy, which will be remembered by a park created and built in the 10-year-old’s name and memory. In October 2012, Jessica was kidnapped while walking to school and later killed by Austin Sigg, 18.

During the dedication ceremony Westminster Police Chief Lee Birk held back tears describing how Jessica’s life has taught the community to love and care more, and although he had never met Jessica, himself and several other law enforcement would agree that they were profoundly touched by Jessica and came to feel as though she was their own daughter.

“Jessica brought out what is good and right in people in our community. This park is part of Jessica’s legacy, but what it really signifies is the lessons Jessica taught us,” he said. “She taught us that family is important, we all should be better neighbors and community members and we all should care and love more because life is short and these things are what are most important.”

For months work has been done on the park, which was formerly known as Chelsea Park, at 10765 Moore St., by many volunteers and city staff and is now open to the public. Its design is a reflection of Jessica, including the color purple and a teeter-totter resembling a giant green dragonfly, an insect she was studying for a project at school before she died. There is also a large butterfly sculpture at the front of the park, which according to former classmate Layla Iverson it’s a perfect fit because Jessica was fascinated by butterflies.

The official ceremony ended with the release of 10 balloons by the Ridgeway family in honor of Jessica’s 10 years of life, but the celebration of her was just beginning. As balloons floated up to the sky, youngsters ran to the playground with smiles on their faces and energy in their shoes, jumping, swinging and climbing, enjoying a park that will always be a reminder of a little girl who loved her family, the color purple, butterflies and animals.

Bridges replaced, construction continues on US 36

With the U.S. 36 Express Lanes project in full-swing, bridges along the highway got a needed facelift. On March 21, 2013 the Colorado Department of Transportation began bridge girder and deck panel installation on the Wadsworth Parkway bridge. This was just the beginning of spring and summer seasons filled with bridge construction along US 36.

On Wadsworth alone 39 girders were set across the highway, some weighing approximately 111,000 pounds and measuring 120-feet long. CDOT project director John Schwab said a total of five bridges are being completely rebuilt and three more are being widened as part of the project. The Wadsworth bridge and the 112th Avenue bridge were complete by November 2013, and the Sheridan Boulevard bridge, BNSF bridge and the US 36 bridges over Lowell Boulevard, the Westminster Promenade, and East and West Flatiron Crossing were under construction in spring and summer.

The U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project is a $312 million, multimodule project between Federal Boulevard and 88th Avenue Street in Louisville/Superior. The project will build an express lane in each direction of Highway 36. The lanes will accommodate high-occupancy vehicles, bus rapid transit and tolled single-occupancy vehicles. Instead of a physical barrier to separate the managed lanes from the general purpose lanes, the project will create a four-foot buffer, the first of its kind in the state, according to Schwab.

Another element to the project is bus-on shoulders. This feature will allow buses to travel on the shoulders of the highway during periods of high traffic volume. Schwab said buses will only be able to use the shoulders, which are the same width of the lanes, under certain conditions and will have restrictions. Buses can only use a maximum speed of 35 mph, and if vehicles are driving more than 50 mph on the roadway, the buses will not be able to use the shoulders, he added. Project is set for completion and open to the public by January 2015.

Adams 12 Five Star School District accused of bad budgeting practices

Adams 12 Five Star Schools superintendent Chris Gdowski was welcomed with applause and a standing ovation during February 2013 board meeting. A group of Adams 12 employees showed up at the meeting in support of their leader, after a FOX31 Denver news report alleged improper budget practices made by the district.

“I am here to today to represent all the great professionals that stand behind me. We speak to you tonight to share a simple, yet emphatic message, we are proud to have Chris Gdowski as our superintendent,” said Beau Foubert, principal at Glacier Peak Elementary School. “Despite recent reports that would mislead you to the contrary, Mr. Gdowski is a man of incredible integrity and ethics. His moral compass is strong and just.”

Those reports were made in a story released by FOX31 Denver on Feb. 4. The news agency conducted a three-month investigation that raised questions concerning past budget cuts, the district’s budget process and finances. In the last three years, the district has cut more than $56 million in the budget, $12 million alone for the 2012-2013 school year.

FOX31 Denver’s report alleged that the district was hiding tens of millions of dollars after Professor James Sorensen of the University of Denver, who was hired by FOX31 Denver, reviewed the district’s finances and budget process.

But Gdowski denied all of the allegations made in the FOX31 report, and said it’s inexcusable that FOX31 Denver is broadcasting numerous falsehood of misinformation regarding the district .

Board president Mark Clark voiced his frustration with the news report during the meeting and said he was never approached by FOX31 Denver on the issues. He said under Gdowski’s leadership he has seen the district improve.

“I want to tell Fox News right now that this is Adams County, and we are proud people,” he said. “We might not be rich, but we are wealthy, and we’re wise, and we’re proud people here. I love Adams County and don’t ever come in our district and say that Adams County is a back woods county, because we are awesome.”


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