53-year-old wins Bolder Boulder men's wheelchair race

Scott Parsons of San Jose, Calif., won the men's wheelchair division race at the 2012 Bolder Boulder 10 in Boulder, Colo., on May 28, 2012. Parsons finished in 24 minutes, 15 seconds. Photo by Daniel Petty, The Denver Post

A local man who thought his mountain of medical bills from an unresolved crime would never be paid found out this week that a special fund for victims would settle his debt.

“It’s awesome, I’m overjoyed,” Seth Rippee, 25, said Thursday.

The development follows a Gazette story Sunday detailing how the Army sometimes deploys soldiers who have a pending felony, delaying or denying the victims’ day in court.

In March 2009, Rippee was downtown when a soldier allegedly punched him after Rippee asked the soldier why he had just hit another man.

The blow broke Rippee’s jaw. He was limited to liquid foods for months and, because the injury left him unable to work, lost his job as a house painter.

The soldier, Michael Cardenaz, was arrested and charged with second degree assault, a felony. If he had been convicted at trial, a judge likely would have ordered him to pay damages. But instead of going to trial, Cardenaz was deployed to Afghanistan with his infantry unit and was killed by an enemy grenade in February 2010.

Rippee was left with an estimated $15,000 in bills, which he said he could not pay.

The debt has dogged him since, ruining his credit, clogging his voice mail with calls from bill collectors, and forcing the father of two who now works at a pizza place to pay expensive deposits for everything from his apartment to Internet service, he said.

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After the Gazette article Sunday  detailed his story, the District Attorney’s office called Rippee to tell him it could almost certainly pay his bills.

The office has a Victims Compensation Fund, funded by fines and fees attached to plea agreements in local courts. The fund gives out several hundred thousand dollars per year to help people like Rippee who have been injured or had property damaged as the result of a crime.

“When I saw his story, I had someone from our office contact Mr. Rippee to have him apply. He is clearly eligible,” said 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May.

Typically, the District Attorney’s office informs victims of the fund and guides them through the application process. But Rippee’s assault case ended suddenly when the soldier died and no one from the office followed up.

“I just figured it was my tough luck,” said Rippee, who knew nothing about the fund.Tuesday, he got a call from the District Attorney’s office.

May said Rippee must have just slipped through the cracks.

Rippee had a broad smile on his face Thursday as he held his 4-month-old daughter, Lily, in his lap and talked about having the unpaid bills wiped off his record.

“This is going to help me out long term,” he said. “It’s great.”

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