By SYLVIA LOBATO
SAN LUIS — A growing pile of documentation and more possible charges sidetracked a preliminary hearing for Jesper Joergensen, slated Aug. 16 and 17 in Costilla County Court. The hearing was reset for 9 a.m. Sept. 19 and 20.
He is in the Costilla County Jail, though he has been housed in other jails since his arrest for first-degree arson. He was arrested June 27 near Mountain Home Reservoir and reportedly admitted he built a fire pit and cooked some meat in the area where the fire started. He also allegedly claimed to have burned some trash and swore he did not know a burn ban was in place.
Jorgensen has been appearing by telephone and did the same Thursday, as both prosecution and defense asked for more time to gather documentation and prepare. Apparently, charges are being prepared in Huerfano County, where more than 30 homes were destroyed and at least one small community threatened.
In addition, the public defender representing Joergensen pointed out to retired judge Gregory Lyman, presiding following the recusal of all District 12 judges, that Costilla County has a very small jury pool, hinting at a motion for change of venue. Lyman said he had an inclination to deny the hearing.
Joergensen faces 141 counts of felony arson stemming from flames in Costilla County and Huerfano County is expected to add to that total.
He appeared by phone during July for advisement of charges against him in connection with the Spring Fire, which burned more than 107,627 acres of mountain forest and foliage, beginning June 27.
The Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who assisted the sheriff’s office and Colorado Bureau of Investigation in arresting Joergensen, placed an immigration detainer on the suspect —who is from Denmark — and had an expired worker’s visa when arrested.
These detainers are placed on immigrants who are likely up for deporting, as well as immigrants who’ve allegedly committed a crime. Basically, the detainer means ICE would like to take custody of the person if and when they are released from jail for any reason, ICE said.
In an interview following his arrest, the 52-year-old Joergensen, an affidavit said the suspect reportedly told authorities he constructed a fire pit Tuesday, June 26, and said the pit was two feet into the ground, with metal cans to prevent ashes from spreading.
He reportedly also told investigators he burned some trash, and then claimed to have built a fire to cook meat and put a grate over the fire pit to keep the meat on, which he said he let cook for three hours.
According to arrest documents, Joergensen told deputies he ate the meat and covered the fire pit with dirt to smother the fire.
He said he checked the pit at 2 p.m. and stirred the ashes and cans around to make sure the fire was out, but saw no smoke so didn’t think it was a threat.
When asked if he had touched the cans to see if they were still hot or put water on the fire to assure it was out, he said he did not.
Joergensen told authorities he had been taking a nap and smelled smoke around noon the next day. He reported seeing a fire burning in some brush 20 feet away from his property. According to the affidavit, he ran toward the blaze and tried to smother it with a blanket but it caught fire, so he threw it into the fire. Burns were found on his chest and ankle, reportedly from his efforts in trying to extinguish the flames.
Thursday morning as Joegensen’s case was debated by phone, a reporter was present representing a Danish newspaper and had some questions; however, due to a gag order, expanded press coverage was forbidden and persons involved were barred from discussing specifics with the media, so further details were unavailable.