Aspen police seeking a “person of interest” in gas tampering incident that cut off heat to thousands

Aspen police want to speak to a man who may be connected to an incident over the weekend in which equipment at a natural gas pumping station was tampered with, leaving 3,500 households in the city without heat or hot water for days.

Authorities in the posh ski town asked the public Wednesday to help them identify a “person of interest,” described as a white man in his mid-40s to early 50s, who weighs approximately 160 pounds and stands 5 feet, 7 inches tall.

He has gray hair, blue eyes and is clean shaven, with possible acne scarring, police said. The man was wearing what was described as “high end” clothing and was carrying a computer bag on his back. He was not wearing a mask.

Anyone with information on this individual is asked to call Aspen police at 970-920-5400.

The FBI is also investigating the incident, which occurred Saturday and triggered Aspen officials on Tuesday to declare a local disaster emergency so as to provide shelter for vulnerable populations and to access properties to protect people from injury or damage.

Bill Linn, , Aspen’s assistant chief of police, told The Denver Post on Wednesday that investigators have been trying to determine if there is a credible link between the radical environmental group Earth First! and the damage that was done to Black Hills Energy’s equipment over the weekend.

The Aspen Police Department released photos showing the organization’s name scrawled across gas pipes that had been tampered with. But Linn said investigators had contacted someone with the organization, who said that if this was the work of Earth First! it “would take credit for it in a statement.”

Linn said no such statement from Earth First!, or any other organization, has been issued.

Linn said the damage to the gas equipment was done by someone who apparently knew what they were doing.

“It’s not the sort of thing that someone would commit just wandering by,” he said. “It took a little bit of research.”

Black Hills Energy on its website Wednesday said that it had restored gas service to 85% of its customers that lost it on Saturday. The utility has been making space heaters available during the outage and at one point had nearly 200 technicians working on restoring service.

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