telluride

Jury Finds Mother Guilty in Norwood Homicide Case

By Cara Pallone

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As Deputy District Attorney Rob Whiting stated Wednesday in his closing statements in Montrose District Court: The evidence in this case is clear.

On September 8th, 2017, police responded to a property in Norwood. And on this property, they discovered two dead girls in a vehicle. In connection with those deaths, five adults were arrested and charged. One of those people was the victims’ mother.

Nashika Bramble

Nashika Bramble

The jury decided that Nashika Bramble did act knowingly with respect to her conduct, and that she was aware her conduct would practically be certain to cause a result.

In this case, it was knowing that her two daughters were in a hot car in in with no food or water. And the result, is that they died. 180 pounds of food was found on the property afterward.

Bramble, and African American woman in her late 30s, was convicted of two counts of first degree murder Wednesday. Her sentencing is scheduled for October first in San Miguel County. A change of venue was granted in the case, which is why the trial was held in Montrose County.

What unraveled after the discovery of the bodies of Makayla Roberts,10, and Hannah Roberts, 8, on that Friday, September 8th, 2017 is a bizarre story about a group of travelers who were invited back to the Norwood property where they were awaiting the end of times. The alleged ringleader, a Haitian woman named Madani Ceus, reportedly sent the two girls to a vehicle and told the others to withhold food and water because the girls were impure and it would hold them all back from achieving what they referred to as “light body.”

Bramble’s trial began on the 8th and lasted a week and a half. It took the jury about an hour to hand down a guilty verdict.

Anywhere from a dozen to two dozen people were in the audience throughout the day. Bramble, dressed in a black suit with her hair in braids, swayed side to side at times in her seat and remained outwardly composed when the jury returned the verdict.

While the prosecution argued that Bramble was a person in a position of trust who took part in isolating and starving her children, Bramble’s defense attorney, Harvey Palefsky, argued that the case is about the illusion of free will. He told the jury that Ceus was the only person who had free will on that property, describing her as “evil, vile, a witch, and a master manipulator,” and that everyone had to bow down to her. Palefsky stated that everyone feared her, and that while it may seem ridiculous to us, we didn’t live in that reality.

Yet, as Whiting argued: once her girls were dead and it became apparent that the end of times was not going to take place, Bramble saved her own life. She left the property, got a bus ticket and only when she saw herself on the news did she turn herself in. 

In a video played during the trial, Bramble told investigators that she made the decision to quote: “leave or end up dead.”

She was pregnant at the time of her arrest and delivered a child while in custody.

Following closing arguments, KOTO News asked for comments from the prosecution and defense teams.

Deputy District Attorney Rob Whiting commented that he felt his team was able to effectively present the evidence they intended to present over the course of the trial, his first case as Deputy DA involving a homicide.

“Procedurally, disagreement is an inherent part of the system and that’s the point of having two different lawyers. And Judge Yoder is really clear, she keeps things moving, she respects people’s rights and I think all of that was showcased in the past week and a half.” 

Bramble’s defense attorney Palefsky said even when his client wasn’t communicating with him over the past almost two years since her arrest, he continued to work for her, saying it would be unprofessional if he just gave up. Past experiences he commented. have proven the importance of the phrase: innocent until proven guilty. 

“I’ve had enough cases where it turned out, especially with another double homicide, that the guy was not guilty and someone else was convicted. I just realize, I wasn’t there, I don’t know the situation. Look at the Central Park 5. I have a job to do, the DA has a job to do. Hopefully if we both do our jobs, there will be some justice in the case.”

Bramble is the second of the Norwood five to stand trial. Ashford Nathaniel Archer of Haiti was convicted in March on two counts of child abuse resulting in death and an accessory charge. His trial lasted nearly three weeks. In June, he was sentenced to 24 years in the department of corrections, with credit for time served.

Sheriff Bill Masters was in attendance Wednesday, as he has been at most of the court proceedings for the Norwood 5. He commented that it is still impactful for him to be in the audience watching the videos and listening to testimony nearly two years later.

“It certainly is, it’s a case that’s going to be with us for a long time. We’ve spent a lot of time on it, investigating this to the proper degree and presenting it to the district attorney and preparing for trials. It’s going to go on still for quite some time.”

The next trial is for Madani Ceus and is scheduled for four weeks in January 2020. She remains at the San Miguel County Jail.

The remaining two people involved in the case, Ika Eden of Jamaica, is in the custody of the state hospital and has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. And Frederick Blair, the only Caucasian person of the five, was offered a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Two counts of felony child abuse were dismissed.

He also is currently lodged at the San Miguel County Jail and is scheduled for a status conference on August 29th.

Telluride School District Superintendent Announces Retirement

By Julia Caulfield

Mike Gass

Mike Gass

Mike Gass, superintendent of the Telluride School District, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Gass has been an educator in Colorado for 30 years, and the superintendent in Telluride since 2015. He says getting to work with the staff and students has been a highlight of his tenure in the position.

“Some of the things that continually drive me as an educator is the opportunity to be in such a great place. It’s not lost on me, I love the kids and I love the staff that I work with on a daily basis, and I mean that because I get to actually be in the building; part of that energy that happens in the hallway in the school year; having one of my own kids graduate from Telluride High School is certainly special,” Gass says.

He also notes how special it is to work in a district where the school is a hub of the community.

“I continually look at the quality of people that we get to work with on a daily basis, whether it’s the staff in the building, or the parents in the community, or the governmental support from the Town Council, Commissioners, law enforcement. Everybody plays a role in a school in a community like this, and that’s a pretty awesome place to be,” Gass says.

Gass says one of the main priorities in his final year will be putting the pieces into place that will allow the person who takes his place to be successful.

He also wants to focus on the opportunities the district provides for graduating students who might not be college bound.

“You know, I can’t say enough about our staff and our academic programming. You know, Telluride is a college going machine, but I think one of the things I would hope we work on over the next year – and my successor – what about the kid that isn’t necessarily always headed to college? What opportunities are we continuing to create for them locally that allow them to try college out, or technical school, or get in the work force and be a leader in our community in that way?” says Gass.

After retiring, Gass and his wife plan to move to the Oregon coast, although he says they’re still figuring out what’s next.

“You know, I may jump back in the education game and play some roles that I’ve enjoyed in the past. But we really don’t know, Colorado has been great to us, we’re both Colorado natives and we’re just going to kind of throw it out there and see what happens,” Gass says.

The Telluride School District Board of Education will begin a national search for a new superintendent in the fall. There are three School Board seats up for election in November. Gass notes those members will have a large hand in hiring the new superintendent.

Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center Officially Opens

By Julia Caulfield

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The Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center at Society Turn officially opened on Wednesday.

A small group of Telluride, Mountain Village, San Miguel County, and Colorado Department of Transportation officials met to celebrate the event on the warm morning, with only wisps of clouds in the sky. It’s a little different from when Nina Kothe, Administrative Assistant for San Miguel County, and David Averill first discussed the idea several years ago.

“When we came out here it was a blustery November day, and I remember standing over the hood of her car with a concept drawing and we’re holding them down so they didn’t blow away,” says Averill, Executive Director for the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation.

Back then, he was working for the CDOT. On a work trip to the area, Kothe brought Averill to lot by the Conoco to share her idea for upgrade.

According to Kothe, the area has always been a parking lot, but the County didn’t have enough money to even pave it. She thought there could be some funding from the state.

“It just turned out there was some money available in a pool, it’s called SB 228, that had to be used for transit. So it was almost like perfect timing, and there were no what they call “shovel ready” projects on the Western Slope except for ours, so we got the money,” says Kothe.

The timing of the project is something Mike McVaugh, Director for District 5 of CDOT, also notes at the ceremony.

 “This is only the second transit project to be completed in the state [with SB 228 funds], the first in Region 5, so we feel really good that everyone was ready, that timing was right, to really pull this together and take advantage of funding that was available statewide and we have this wonderful project here today,” McVaugh says.

San Miguel County got around $1.5 million of State funding to update the lot, although Kothe notes that they came in under budget.

The lot at Society Turn has been used as a parking lot for years, but now, the new transit center has around 120 paved spaces. It’s a stop for the Galloping Goose, SMART buses, and the Bustang Outrider. There are restrooms, and even several charging stations for electric vehicles, all powered by solar panels. Kothe says she hopes both locals and visitors alike will take advantage of the extra parking.

“The hope is really that people, even locals, they might opt to park here and hop on the Galloping Goose to get into town, because then they also don’t have to worry about parking in town. But mostly we envision it as a transit center for regional transportation, and maybe even a transfer station where people might get off a bus that’s come up from Montrose…and hope on a bus that will then take them up to Mountain Village,” Kothe says.

The Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 29th, and bagpipes to mark the occasion.

Valley Floor Education Day Pairs Learning with the Local Environment

By Julia Caulfield

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It’s a cool spring morning with a light breeze. Birds are chirping as ninety kindergartners, 1st, and 2nd graders are piling onto the Valley Floor after walking from the elementary school. The forecasted rain and show are holding off for the moment, but by the end of the morning a wintery mix is pelting down, making the whole experience a notably colder one.

The students are on a field trip for the 2nd annual Valley Floor Education Day. Over the course of about two hours, they rotate through four different stations to learn about different parts of the ecosystem – from pond, to river, to willows, to forest. Surrounded by the sound of the rushing San Miguel River, wind blowing through the trees, and birds singing, the banging of construction equipment is the only real reminder that we’re a just a short walk from town.

“The Valley Floor is our backyard, so that’s where we should be educating kids…” says Sarah Holdbrooke, the Executive Director of the Pinhead Institute.

Valley Floor Education Day is a collaboration between the Pinhead Institute, Sheep Mountain Alliance, and the Telluride Institute’s Watershed Education Program.

Holbrooke says, beyond being in Telluride’s backyard, there are multiple reasons to bring kids onto the Valley Floor.

“I mean number one just exercise, right? ... Secondly, my gosh, what a beautiful valley we have, so even if all they do is enjoy the few wild flowers that are growing now, or see the clouds coming in and enjoy that, or notice the threatening weather about to descend on us, that’ll be a good lesson. But boy, we have amazing scientists who are devoting their time...so hopefully the kids will leave with an understanding of what ducks live on the pond, or what fish live in the river, or what you can do with willow branches, or what it’s like to spend a little mindfulness…out in nature” says Holbrooke.

The focus for Valley Floor Education Day centers around STEM learning – that’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And the stations each bring in different elements of the learning curriculum.

At the pond station students get to investigate the wildlife that lives both above and below the water. They look at birds through a scope, and get up close and personal with insects and other small organisms.

Moving on the river station they get to calculate the speed of the river by counting how long it takes for a stick to make it through the current.

Then on to willows where students learn about the Ute people and miners who lived on the Valley Floor in the past.

Finally, the forest station helps students see the connections between a health forest and a health human.

For some, this is their first time on the Valley Floor, but for 1st grader Cooper Zimmermann? This is not his first trip.

“I live here, so, I’ve probably been here a lot” says Cooper.

Cooper says he likes getting to learn about the trees in the area, and learning how to tell if they’re alive or dead. But when asked what the best part is, he says it’s basically everything.

He says, “exploring all of nature and seeing what types of birds and animals there are, and just pretty much looking around.”

Cooper’s mom, Nancy Zimmermann is also on the trip to the Valley Floor. She says it’s important for young kids to come out and experience the Valley Floor because they’ll be the ones protecting it in the future.

“It’s a big part of what makes Telluride special, is this Valley Floor, and the kids growing up here will eventually be the stewards of the Valley Floor when they’re all grown up, and hopefully keep this in perpetuity and pristine conditions for generations to enjoy”, Zimmermann says.

The importance of building a connection with the land is something Lexi Tuddenham, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, acknowledges as well.

“It’s a real way to both enliven their curiosity about science and nature, and also allow them to develop a sense of place, and develop a connection to the place they’re growing up,” says Tuddenham.

The snow and rain keep the second half of the K-2 students from coming out to the Valley Floor for the afternoon, but don’t worry, they’ll get their chance as soon as the weather clears up.

May 9th is Valley Floor Day. This year celebrates the 12th anniversary of the Valley Floor becoming open space.

Job Fair Attracts Eager Youths

By Julia Caulfield

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The Wilkinson Library is buzzing with anticipation, excitement, and maybe a few nerves. True North Youth Programs – along with the library – is hosting the 2nd annual Teen Summer Jobs Fair. Twenty employers from around Telluride and Mountain Village are in the Program Room to meet with nearly fifty young people looking for work for the summer.

“It’s as much of a teen event as a community event. We’re such a small town it’s really important to have everybody on the same page, so having employers who are willing to participate and help these teens realize, this could be their first job, this is a big deal. While helping groom them for bigger and better things after high school or even college,” says Loren Knobbe, program director for True North Youth Program.

The organization works to help teens prepare for adulthood through tutoring and service learning programs.

“Finding those opportunities for both employers and students in our community is really important, and it’s a great way for everybody to come together and help each other out,” says Knobbe.

But the job fair isn’t only an opportunity for teens to meet with potential employers. There are also a number of breakout session that help prepare them for the job hunt. Sessions include things like a resume building workshop, job etiquette, interview tips and tricks, and mock interviews.

Aiden Ingram is 15, and came in from Norwood for the fair. He’s hoping to work as a life guard this summer and says the mock interviews were especially helpful.

Ingram says, “it was giving me more of an insight on what to look for in an interview.”

Maya Geiger agrees. She’s also 15 and came to the job fair last year as well. She says having the extra workshops has been a bonus.

“I feel like this year is more helpful because they have more ways for you to learn how to communicate with people who are interested in hiring you,” says Geiger.

According to Tiffany Osborn, that’s exactly the point. Osborn works as a service specialist at the library and teamed up with True North to develop the job fair after hearing from teens that businesses wouldn’t hire them.

“And then you talk to employers and they say ‘oh, we hire teens, but they need some training’ … I hope they learn how to have a job and advocate for themselves and be a good employee, and be respectful, and learn how to work. We don’t want them to go to college and go, ‘I’ve never had a job before, and this is the first time I’m ever walking into anything’ or get to college and say ‘oh my gosh, my parents said I need to make my own money, what do I do now’? We want them to have some experience, some experience of talking to people, looking people in the eye, speaking…” says Osborn.

And when all those skills line up, Sue Coons, HR Director for the town of Mountain Village, says local teens can be the perfect employees. She’s at the job fair looking for teens to work as gondola attendants for the summer.

Coons says, “gondola attendants from the high school are some of the best candidates we have because they know the area so well and they’re great at providing guest service for all our visitors, home owners, and guests.”

While the summer job fair is over, True North Youth Programs continues to provide weekly college and career prep support at the Telluride High School. More information is available at truenorthyouthprogram.org.

Local Paramedic Discusses Relief Efforts in Africa

By Cara Pallone

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Tropical Cyclone Idai was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Africa. Flooding has affected nearly 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe since rains began in early March and Idai struck March 14 and 15. The death toll exceeds 800 people and many more are missing.

Now, as flood waters recede, survivors are struggling to obtain food, clean water, shelter, and medical attention.

One local Telluride woman was dispatched to help.

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Heidi Attenberger has served as a paramedic with the Telluride Fire Protection District since 2004, and she’s also a volunteer with Team Rubicon. Team Rubicon is a nonprofit disaster response organization that utilizes the skills and experiences of military veterans and first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

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Attenberger traveled on a volunteer mission to Africa last month with hardly a day's notice. She returned April 5. In this interview, she talks about her experiences on the front lines, previous disaster relief efforts she's been involved with, and how one person can make a different. 

Learn more about Team Rubicon and its mission by visiting teamrubiconusa.org.

Summer Work Visa Brings Students to Telluride Each Winter

By Julia Caulfield

PC: Zanny Espinoza

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Zanny Espinoza is a smiling 18-year-old. She has dark brown curls, and wears bright red lipstick. She is one of the many young people to come to Telluride for the winter. But unlike many of the people who come from across the country to spend their winter skiing and snowboarding, Espinoza came from her home in Peru on a summer work travel visa.

She’s a sociology student at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, a private university in her hometown of Lima, Peru’s capital. In many ways, Lima couldn’t be more different from Telluride.

“Lima is a mix of a lot of things. First, you know South America was conquered by the Spaniards, so we speak Spanish. We have a lot of Spanish influence. Then, people from different parts of Peru started migrating, so it’s a very big city; ten million people in a very small place, and it’s a mix of tradition and a mix of other cultures…and the food, it’s so amazing in my country,” says Espinoza.

So how did she end up in Telluride?

Espinoza is here on a J1 Visa. The visa allows her to work and travel in the U.S. during her summer vacation—Peru’s summer is Colorado’s winter.

She worked with an agency in Peru, and another in U.S. that helps to connect students with employer sponsors. Espinoza is one of ten J1 Visa holders to get a job at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the winter season.

Mike Jackman, manager at Clark’s Market, says Clark’s has been a J1 Visa employment sponsor for about a decade. In that time, the Market has employed J1 Visa holders from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, and China. He says the program is a great way to increase staff during the busy season.

“The resort location and the seasonal nature of a business in Telluride – of course South American countries it’s their summer, so a lot of the students are off for their summer semester – and they come and work here for exactly the three months we need them the most,” says Jackman.

Students with J1 Visas are often placed in resort towns, or areas with a lot of seasonal work.

Originally Espinoza was hoping to work at the Clark’s Market in Aspen. But the all the positions there were full, so she ended up in Telluride. In the end she said she’s happy she came here.

“I really like the mountain, it’s so beautiful,” she says. “Once I went to San Sophia station, the first station on the Gondola, and the views were breathtaking. I was really in love with that.”

She’s met a lot of great people, and she’s enjoyed her work, but that doesn’t mean everything’s been easy. According to the State Department website, one of the ideas behind the J1 Visa is for students to be able to travel. But because Telluride is isolated, and expensive, Espinoza says she hasn’t been able to see as much of the country as she would like.

One of Espinoza’s big goals was to see the Grand Canyon, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

“I wanted to go to Vegas and take a trip from there, but it’s very expensive, so I’m not sure,” she adds. 

She says it’s frustrating, almost like she was promised something she didn’t get.

Despite all that, Espinoza says being in Telluride has been a good experience.

“I feel so independent now. In my country I have three brothers – they are younger than me – my mom and dad. And also with my, you know, South America we live with cousins, we live with all the people; like twenty people in one house, it’s like that. So, I live with a lot of people. And here I’m just living on my own, or with my friends. And also, I think that my parents trust me more because they know that I can do this, I can live alone here. I feel really good. I feel like I’m a bit more mature now,” says Espinoza.

Espinoza says she’s interested in participating in another work travel visa program in the future, maybe to Australia.

In March, Espinoza will head back to Peru. But before too long, a new group of students from China will be at Clark’s Market in Telluride for the summer to work and explore through the J1 Visa program.