By Brian Maass
BAILEY, Colo. (CBS4) – A Bailey man says he twice warned the Park County Sheriff’s department about the danger of attempting to evict his neighbor Martin Wirth, who ultimately killed a Park County corporal and wounded two other deputies during an eviction proceeding in February.
Rich Gabrisch says he told the sheriff, and later a deputy, that his neighbor, Martin Wirth “was going to shoot the police when they show up.”
Gabrisch told CBS4 he doesn’t know why the sheriff’s department didn’t take his warnings more seriously.
On the morning of Feb. 24, Wirth shot and killed Corporal Nathan Carrigan and wounded two other deputies who were attempting to evict him from his home. Wirth, 58, was shot and killed in the gunbattle with deputies. A SWAT team was not used for an eviction the sheriff termed “high risk.”
Wirth had been in a long running dispute with his mortgage company dating back years. Gabrisch, who lives near Wirth in a lightly populated subdivision, knew the reclusive Wirth well. Over the years he had given Wirth odd jobs to do, provided him rides to the grocery store and to medical appointments. He even hosted Wirth for a Christmas dinner. He said Wirth had been a heavy drinker when they first met in about 2002 but spent the better part of a decade in AA.
“He was very bitter about society,” recalled Gabrisch, in his first broadcast interview. Although Gabrisch said he never felt threatened by Wirth, he said his neighbor was increasingly angry at the mortgage company that was attempting to evict him and at police who were enforcing the court ordered eviction.
“He just hated police. He really believed there was no need for police. He saw them as evil enforcers and they all should be shot.”
Knowing that deputies would be involved in attempting to evict Wirth, Gabrisch says he called Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener a year or two ago to warn him about Wirth.
He said he left a message and that Wegener called him back. Gabrisch said he told the sheriff “he (Wirth) was going to shoot you if you come to repossess the house. He is going to shoot the police.”
Gabrisch recalls Wegener saying he would warn his deputies. However, Wegener told CBS4 this week he has no recollection of that phone conversation.
“Wish I could recall it,” said Wegener. “I don’t remember talking to him about Wirth. I don’t know who the guy (Gabrisch) is. Doesn’t sound like anything I would have spoken to him about.”
Gabrisch is adamant that call took place.
He says as eviction proceedings dragged on, Wirth became more agitated and more desperate.
“It was getting more and more serious. He was talking more and more serious about it. He says ‘What do I have to live for?’ He said ‘I don’t have anyone, no money, no job, nothing to live for.'”
Gabrisch says Wirth was direct saying “that he was going to shoot the police when they show up. He will shoot them.”
Alarmed, Gabrisch says he called the Park County Sheriff’s department a second time, between Jan. 20, 2016, and before the deadly Feb. 24 eviction. This time, Gabrisch says he left a message and a deputy called him back. He said he was unsure who the deputy was.
“I warned them about he’s going to shoot somebody and it could get quite bad. And they seemed concerned,” said Gabrisch.
He said at one point he offered to buy Wirth’s rifle as a way of disarming his neighbor, but he says Wirth declined the offer.
“My wife said don’t get involved, but how bad was I going to feel if he does shoot somebody?” wondered Gabrisch, explaining why he called authorities.
Several weeks after that phone conversation with a Park County deputy, the eviction took place and both Cpl. Nate Carrigan and Martin Wirth ended up dead.
Gabrisch told CBS4 he was surprised at the approach the Park County Sheriff’s department took on Feb. 24.
“They showed up like the Marines invading Iwo Jima. I think they attacked the house like the Marines landing on the beach. Marty wanted to die and Marty got to choose the way he died. He wanted to take the police out with him when he went,” said Gabrisch. “I know he was bent on killing somebody and the police knew it, too.”
Wegener has told CBS4 he had no inkling of the direction Wirth was headed.
“Never had any indication from past comments that he was going to be violent,” said Wegener. “We didn’t have any real indication he was going to shoot somebody.”
Wegener told CBS4 that at the time of the eviction, he was unaware Wirth had been arrested for murder in 1994. In that case, witnesses said Wirth shot and killed a man after an argument over a chess game. However a jury acquitted Wirth at trial.
Wegener said he only learned of that incident after Feb. 24.
Gabrisch said that several days after the lethal eviction, an agent from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation interviewed him at length and he told the agent about the phone calls he said he made to the Park County Sheriff’s Department.
A CBI report on the Feb. 24 incident is expected to be released within weeks or even days.
The family of Corporal Nathan Carrigan is considering legal action against the sheriff’s department.