Antique rifle causes a contemporary injury

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Ran Cochran managed to call 911. After that, it’s all pretty much a blur.
“I don’t remember much after that,” said Cochran, the Rio Blanco County coroner and owner of Cochran Memorial Chapels in Meeker and Rangely. He is recovering at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction after being shot in the stomach.
“I’m getting along pretty well,” Cochran said last Sunday. “I’ll be all right.”
Cochran had surgery early March 12, to remove the bullet. The day before, while he was cleaning a .22-caliber rifle that used to belong to his great-grandfather, the weapon accidentally fired, he said.
“It pretty much happened in slow motion,” Cochran said. “I could see the gun falling and thinking this is bad.”
Cochran was alone at the funeral home at the time.
“I had this antique gun, which had been my great-grandfather’s, and I thought I would clean it up,” Cochran said. “I was in the back room (at the funeral home), and I realized to get the shell out (of the rifle), I needed a pair of needle-nose pliers. When I went to get the pliers, I grabbed a cup of coffee, and my arm bumped the gun, and when it fell, it went off.”
The rifle had been passed down to Cochran by his father, when his grandfather died.
“My father has Alzheimer’s now, and I was looking for anything that might spark his memory a little,” Cochran said. “And when I had showed it to him, he knew it was his grandfather’s. So I thought I would clean it up, and we could go out and shoot around. We’re not much gun people, but I’ve shot a .22 before.”
Cochran said his first thought, after being shot, was to drive himself to the hospital.
“I was about five feet away from my car, and I thought I would just drive up there,” he said. “That is until I started to walk out to my car and found out it wasn’t going to be that easy. I was in a lot of pain.”
Cochran said he didn’t know how seriously he was wounded.
“For a second, I wondered (if he was going to die),” Cochran said. “But I knew from my experience it wasn’t in the spot that is necessarily fatal, especially with a small gun.”
Undersheriff Mike Joos was the first person on the scene. He heard the call come in and ran the short distance from the sheriff’s office to the funeral home, across the street. Soon after, emergency services personnel arrived.
“I don’t know what I’d do without those guys,” Cochran said. “They just let me know everything was going to be OK.”
Cochran was moved out of intensive care last Friday.
“The doctor doesn’t think there will be any long-lasting damage,” Cochran said. “But right now, I’m very sore. Moving causes a lot of pain.”
Cochran said he didn’t know when he would be released from the hospital.
“I’m hoping later in the week,” he said.
In the meantime, Cochran said Sue Kirkham and Nancy Richardson would handle things at the funeral homes.

Cuppa Joe opened March 1 in the back of Wendll’s Wondrous Things, at Sixth and Main. Wendll’s, owned by Wendy Gutierrez, celebrated its 15th anniversary the same day.
Wendy’s husband, Bobby, is helping out at the new coffee shop, along with Brandy Giao. Cuppa Joe will have its grand opening, with live music by local musician Matt Holliday, from 6 to 9 p.m. today.
“Our main goal is to create an atmosphere where people can come in and sit down, meet friends, and to be a place where people feel comfortable hanging out,” Wendy said.

Rhonda Porterfield is the new manager of the Meeker Hotel, which recently reopened after being closed temporarily.

Betty’s Cafe of Vernal, Utah, recently opened a restaurant in Rangely, next to the Blue Mountain Inn and Suites.
Ryan Nay is managing the restaurant, which is named for his grandmother. The restaurant opens at 5 a.m. for breakfast and serves lunch seven days a week, as well as dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Things are going really well,” Nay said, who owns the restaurant along with his mother, Lynne Johnston, who runs the Betty’s Cafe in Vernal.
The restaurant is named for Ryan’s grandmother.
“My grandmother is Betty,” Ryan said. “She has been over here baking for us. She’s 74, so she doesn’t work a lot, but everything is homemade.”

A big crowd turned out for the benefit fish fry March 8 for Alyssa Jones, the 4-year-old girl who has leukemia. Alyssa had a follow-up doctor appointment Monday in Denver.
“We found out her that her pancreas and all of her stomach issues are better,” said Alyssa’s mom, Lisa. “That’s cleared up completely. But she had a reaction to her chemo last month. She lost her hair and her counts came down really low. They had to give her more blood. She can’t start her next round of chemo until this clears up. But we’re doing a little bit better, now that we’re back home. It’s better than being at the hospital for so long. She (Alyssa) could care less about her hair. I’m sure it bothers me more. She’s been sick from the treatment, but overall, it will make her better.”

With all of the talk about the economy, Jeff Madison, director of natural resources and planning and development for Rio Blanco County, has noticed a slowdown in the Piceance Basin.
“The biggest change we are seeing is in the amount of new drilling of gas wells,” Madison said. “Most of the medium to small companies have cut back by half. Some of the very small companies have shut down drilling entirely. This is mitigated by our largest drilling company, ExxonMobil, maintaining the pace of their drilling program. They have said all along that they plan to keep a steady pace through the downturn.
“If I had to estimate, I would say we will be off in drilling by about 30 to 40 percent,” Madison said. “The APDs (Applications for Permits to Drill) approved by the state (73) for the county are on pace to match last year’s number (477) right now. So the companies are keeping their options open. If the gas market rebounds, the drilling will return to record numbers again quickly. The last three years have each set new records, and it seems that those numbers have become the standard in everyone’s mind. However, the number this year, even with the slowdown, will be higher than anything before 2007.”
With the slowdown in drilling, energy companies are moving forward in other areas, Madison said.
“It does appear that the companies are using the lull to complete infrastructure projects,” Madison said. “A number of large pipelines are moving forward for this summer, and they are still working to complete two of the large gas plants. Enterprise is still saying they want to build two more phases of their gas plant and have started the permitting process. All total, the companies have spent over $2 billion on gas plants, pipelines and associated construction in the county in the last three years. The primary reason they are choosing Rio Blanco for this investment is because of our low mill levy, compared to other surrounding counties. I look for this trend to continue. Also, once the gas plants are all up and running, the drilling has to continue to keep gas moving through the plants.”
Due to the drop-off in drilling, Madison said the amount of oil and gas workers in the county is down.
“Right now, I would estimate we have about 2,200 workers in the basin, down from about 4,000 last summer and fall,” Madison said. “I do look for this to pick up as we hit spring. There is one seismic project that will bring in 260 people and several pipelines that will have 200 each. Also, Halliburton has just amended their permit for their temporary labor quarters — or man camp — from 70 to 105 beds.”
County Commissioner Ken Parsons said at recent meeting, “Yeah, there are not as many trucks out there on the road.”
County Commission Chairman Joe Collins agreed, saying, “Things seemed to have slowed down around town.”
With energy companies scaling back, for now at least, Madison said the planning department is using the downtime to work on other projects.
“In the meantime, our office is using the slowdown to work on some larger projects, like revision of the master plan and the land use regulations,” Madison said. “The intention is that when the companies ramp up again, we will be more prepared to deal with the growth.”

The county lifted its annual spring load weight restriction last week on county roads 5, 7 and 21. These three roads were determined to be the most vulnerable to the freeze-thaw cycle, and due to heavy truck traffic.

County commissioners have budgeted $400,000 to remodel the space in the Fairfield Center, formerly occupied by the Meeker Public Library.
“I’m working with Tim Boesch, local architect, on some options to convert the old library space to office space that will be used by various county departments,” said Pat Hooker, county administrator.
“If we can come up with a suitable/workable plan to use that space as office space, then we’ll decide which departments may move to the Fairfield.
“I’m hopeful that within the next week or 10 days, Tim will have a proposed layout for that space and how we might use it,” Hooker said. “I’m hoping on being able to make a final decision on how we can use the space by the end of March. If we can, then we’ll have to secure final layout plans, so that we can put the project out to bid with contractors, to do whatever work needs to be done to convert the space to usable office space.”

Meanwhile, Mike Bartlett, director of the Meeker Library, said the library was happy in its new home, about two blocks down the street from the Fairfield.
“It’s great,” Bartlett said of the library, which moved into its new digs in September. “I think we’re doing fine here. Everybody seems like to it. I continue to hear good things.”

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at