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Rural Town Used to Media Frenzy

If Kobe Bryant (search) goes on trial here, it won't be the first time this rural town of 3,500 has been overrun by reporters. Still, no one is looking forward to it.

Residents of the one-time ranching community are used to seeing celebrities and dealing with big news.

Its proximity to Vail and Beaver Creek draws reporters who cover famous faces and newsworthy events in those resort towns, such as the annual World Forum that included participants like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Vice President Dick Cheney, said Jack Lewis, a developer for Vail Resorts (search).

The town's most recent high-profile cases included skier Nathan Hall's (search conviction of criminally negligent homicide after colliding with another skier at Vail, and former stripper Kolleen Brooks' (search)' conviction for staging an attack on herself during a recall election when she was mayor of Georgetown, 60 miles east. Her trial was moved to Eagle because of pretrial publicity.

In 1997, TV satellite trucks filled the airport parking lot for three weeks to cover the mysterious crash of an Air Force A-10 Warthog (search) whose pilot flew 800 miles off course from Arizona and crashed on a 13,000-foot mountain.

All that doesn't mean, however, that residents will just ignore Bryant's case.

"This is a small community. It's going to have an impact if it lands right here," Mayor Roxie Dean said.

Bryant, one of the NBA's (search) most popular superstars, was charged Friday with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a nearby resort. His attorneys said they will consider asking a judge to move the trial out of Eagle County to ensure a fair trial. Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert (searchwants the case to be tried here.

Bryant, 24, denied the charge, saying he was guilty only of adultery.

Eagle, founded in the late 1800s, has grown with an economy largely dependent on tourism. Many residents moved here for its quiet, family-oriented lifestyle and more affordable housing, and work in Vail and Beaver Creek, about 30 miles east of Eagle. Many have graduate degrees.

The population is economically diverse, said defense lawyer Scott Robinson of Denver.

"It's not going to be an inner city jury but it's not going to be a bunch of farmers either," Robinson said.

The case already has had an effect on Eagle. In the two weeks between Bryant's arrest and the prosecutor's decision to file charges, traffic increased, television trucks took up spaces in the courthouse parking lot and some reporters stayed in Eagle's five hotels.

"We definitely are getting more business, especially from the news media people. On the other hand it is bad that whatever happened, happened," said Robert Hermosillo, manager of Salsas Mexican Restaurant.

Bryant's admission that he had sex with his accuser probably will turn the attention to her and her background, something that may be easier to learn in a small town, said Robert Pugsley, a criminal law professor at Southwestern University in Los Angeles who monitored the O.J. Simpson trial.

"They're really going to set her on trial here," he said of defense attorneys.

Town council member Paul Witt worries about a trial's effect on the woman, a former cheerleader at Eagle Valley High School.

"There are going to be a lot more lives affected by this before it is over," Witt said.