District Attorney Craig Westberg died Wednesday evening in a Scottsdale, Ariz., hospital after breaking his neck in a mountain biking accident last weekend.Nancy Hoyt, the spokeswoman for the family, said Westberg died about 11 p.m. with his family and his dog at his side.
Westberg, the chief prosecutor for Archuleta, San Juan and La Plata counties, was injured last weekend somewhere in Arizona. Sources familiar with the accident said the 64-year-old Durangoan flipped over his handlebars and broke his neck. His wife, Jan Westberg, was with him and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation until medics arrived.
Co-workers and friends described Westberg as a skilled prosecutor who enjoyed life to its fullest.
"He was the most ethical person I ever knew," said Sgt. Rita Warfield, chief investigator with the Durango Police Department. "This community has lost a really, really good man."
Westberg lived in the area for about 38 years and enjoyed swimming, aviation, hiking, mountain biking and cross country skiing. He worked more than 24 years as a prosecutor, including two terms as 6th Judicial District attorney - from 1977 to 1981, and from 2004 to the present.
Kim Kitchen, who had been serving as assistant district attorney, will be sworn in as district attorney for the 6th Judicial District at 8 a.m. today. She will complete Westberg's term, which ends Tuesday. The oath will be administered in the office of District Judge Jeffrey Wilson. Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Kitchen to the interim post Thursday.
District Attorney-elect Todd Risberg will be sworn in Tuesday.
During his years in the District Attorney's Office, Westberg handled many high-profile cases, including the "barbecue pit murder case" in the 1990s, in which the victim's body was incinerated, making prosecution difficult.
More recently, in 2008, he oversaw three murder cases involving Nicole Leigh Redhorse, who was raped and died from her injuries in a Durango motel room. None of the three men was found guilty of first-degree murder, as Westberg had sought, but all three were sent to prison for 48 years or more and could spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
Westberg spent a lot of time in the courtroom and wasn't afraid to take cases to trial, said Larry Backer, a friend and chief investigator at the District Attorney's Office.
Those who worked with him were loyal and appreciated his abilities, said Sarah Law, a former district attorney who hired Westberg in 1996. She described him as an "extremely skilled" trial lawyer.
After one trial, Law recalled how a juror approached her to mention what a great job Westberg had done. But the juror noticed Westberg had a tendency to jump right into a thought - as if starting a sentence in the middle of a paragraph.
"He was always three or four steps ahead," Law said. "His mouth just couldn't catch up to his brain."
When Westberg decided to do something, he put his full heart into it, she said. He became interested in mountaineering and planned a trip to Chile. To train for the high-elevation climbing, Westberg loaded up a backpack with rocks and ran up Smelter Mountain every morning before work, she said.
Westberg had a son and a daughter to whom he was very committed, Law said.
Even though he had his faults, Westberg made a positive impact on the community, she said.
"I just really hope the family comes to understand that - that there is a lot of support for Craig, and he will be sorely missed," she said.
As of Thursday evening, no funeral arrangements had been announced. email@example.com