Saguache business owner facing murder charges

SAGUACHE — Saguache business owner Steven Heimberg, 58, was arrested last Friday in the shooting death of Richard Wharton, 42, of Saguache, after Wharton was found dead early Friday morning atop one of the buildings in Heimberg’s business complex.

Heimberg is the owner of the Lumber Mart, located at 550 Denver Ave. in Saguache.  

According to the application for a warrantless arrest obtained from Saguache County Courts, Undersheriff Jim McCloskey responded to the call Friday morning, Sept. 7, after a Saguache Sheriff dispatcher was notified around 4:31 a.m. of the shooting. Heimberg was on scene and told McCloskey he was awakened around 4:30 a.m. by what sounded like someone pounding on the roof of one of his buildings with a metal pipe.

He told McCloskey he then put on his housecoat, grabbed a gun and went out to investigate the source of the noise, but assumed it was someone breaking into his property. Heimberg said he saw an unknown male on the roof of a building in the northwest corner of his property, (later identified as Wharton), banging on the roof with a metal pipe and yelling for help. He said he could only see part of his body, asked the man what was wrong and told him to leave the property.

Heimberg said the man then advanced toward him, still yelling for help and swinging the piece of pipe. At that time Heimberg said he became scared and feared for his life, a statement he repeated several times during the interview, McCloskey reported. But McCloskey also noted that when asked why he took the actions he did, Heimberg said he was afraid someone would steal his property.

Heimberg said he fired two shots into the air, about 20 seconds apart to warn the man, but the male party was not fazed by the shots, he said. Because Wharton continued to advance on him, Heimberg told McCloskey he positioned himself under the eve of the roof and shot possibly three rounds at him while Wharton was about 15-20 feet away. Later he reported he then fired one more round at him.

Heimberg also said he climbed on a trailer to position himself and get a better view of the individual. McCloskey said Heimberg did not move away from Wharton. Once Wharton came over the pitch of the roof, Heimberg said he fired at him and saw the victim fall. He then called the Saguache Sheriff’s Office to request an ambulance be sent to the business.

Wharton was pronounced dead at the scene, positioned about three to five feet away from the edge of the roof. Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was called in to investigate, along with a multi-agency federal task force from Safe Streets.

According to Heimberg’s account, the shots were fired while Wharton was facing Heimberg. Pre-autopsy reports show Wharton was wounded twice, once in the wrist and a second time by another round which entered through the victim’s back. CBI reported that a large quantity of blood drops and smear marks were located on the east side of the roof, the opposite side from where Heimberg said he was firing.

According to the warrantless report detailing CBI’s findings, the east side of the roof is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, making it difficult or impossible for Wharton to have escaped from anywhere but the west side of the roof, where Heimberg said he was positioned. Two bullet casings were found at the scene. CBI said Heimberg had a clear and unobstructed view of Wharton from the trailer where he had positioned himself to shoot.

McCloskey said because it was apparent from the investigation that Heimberg “continually advanced toward the male party,” this provided probable cause for the arrest. Heimberg was charged with second-degree murder and posted a $250,000 surety bond.

His first court appearance in Saguache is Sept. 12 at 2 p.m.

Photo by Teresa Benns
Emergency vehicles and crime scene tape surround the Lumber Mart in Saguache following an unexplained death Friday morning.


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