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Skier charged after deadly collision

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Skier charged after deadly collision

By James Langton and George Richards, Evening Standard

4 March 2003

 

A British skier on holiday in Colorado was today charged with manslaughter after the death of another man on the slopes. Robert Wills, 31, was arrested after a collision which left 56-yearold Richard Henrichs dead in Breckenridge on Sunday.

 

According to the victim's son, Mr Wills ran into his father, causing him to hit a tree. In the resulting collision, Mr Henrichs suffered massive head injuries and a broken hip.

 

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "Robert Wills has been charged with manslaughter. His family have been informed and consular assistance has been made available to him."

 

Earlier, Summit County Sheriff 's Department spokesman Jill Berman said Mr Wills "might have been going too fast", when the accident happened. Officials from the British Consulate in Houston, Texas, are now on their way to Breckenridge where they will try to secure Mr Wills's release on £10,000 bail.

 

The accident happened as Mr Henrichs, from Naperville, Illinois, was skiing with his son in the early afternoon. He died several hours later in hospital outside Denver. The Briton is being held in the Summit County Jail while the district attorney's office considers charges. Under Colorado law, ski accidents can become a criminal prosecution if it can be proved rules governing skiing conduct were broken.

 

Like most other American resorts, skiers and snowboarders in Breckenridge are required by law to avoid hitting anyone below or in front of them. Mr Wills was staying at the Great Divide Lodge, a four-star hotel situated close to the bottom of he slopes and the centre of Breckenridge.

 

He was on holiday with two male companions. They left Britain last Wednesday and had been due to return home tomorrow, said a spokeswoman for travel agent Thomas Cook.

 

The resort, a former mining town about 60 miles from Denver in the Rocky Mountains, is popular with British skiers for its powder snow conditions and steep back bowls. It is one of the highest altitude resorts in America, with the town at nearly 10,000 feet and skiing up to 15,000 feet. Accidents have claimed the lives of 13 skiers and snowboarders in Colorado this season, following a record 16 deaths last year.

 

Resort spokesman Dawn Doty said that staff sometime used speed-monitoring equipment. "We try to do whatever we can," she said. "We have our ski patrol staff and guest service staff on the mountain every day to remind people to ski slower at certain times and at certain points."

 

Two years ago another skier involved in a fatal collision was jailed for 90 days in Colorado. Nathan Hall was convicted of killing Denver carpenter Alan Cobb, who originally came from Ipswich, on the slopes at Vail after hitting him so hard it took him nearly 100 feet to stop.

 

Hall was charged with reckless manslaughter, which carried a maximum sentence of 16 years, but a jury convicted him on the lesser offence of negligent homicide.

 

 

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Accidents have claimed the lives of 13 skiers and snowboarders in Colorado this season, following a record 16 deaths last year.

 

I have brought this up in conversation with people in the past:

 

Why is it that people get all up in arms when some climbers die on rainier and hood and just climbing in general when 13 people die skiing in colorado and there doesn't seem to be a big uproar. It seems climbing gets all this attention as an extremely dangerous sport; now I know there are probably more skiers and there are certain ratios of participants to deaths, but remember the climbing season is all year round.

 

Maybe it does get a lot of attention, and I just don't know it.

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Skiing is percieved as as less dangerous activity and is more widely accepted. Whereas idiots who hang from their finger and toes off of cliffs are obviously in more danger. Duh!

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Wow, what bullshit. This sets a pretty stupid precedent. But, I dunno, maybe it was set before. This is another great reason why resort skiing is retarted. Thanks, but I'll go find my turns away from the mob of idiots.

 

BTW, I particularly liked this:

 

"It is one of the highest altitude resorts in America, with the town at nearly 10,000 feet and skiing up to 15,000 feet"

 

Hmm...didn't know there were any 15k mountains in CO tongue.gif

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JoshK said:

Wow, what bullshit. This sets a pretty stupid precedent. But, I dunno, maybe it was set before.

I would have to disagree. This British skier, and all skiers, should be held responsible for their actions on the slopes; especially if accidents occur due to disregard for safe practices.

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JoshK said:

 

Hmm...didn't know there were any 15k mountains in CO tongue.gif

 

Yeah... I didn't think there were any 15k mountains in ALL of the lower 48, let alone CO... Those folks really think they're sump'in. rolleyes.gif

 

...sobo

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COL._Von_Spanker said:

Accidents have claimed the lives of 13 skiers and snowboarders in Colorado this season, following a record 16 deaths last year.

 

I have brought this up in conversation with people in the past:

 

Why is it that people get all up in arms when some climbers die on rainier and hood and just climbing in general when 13 people die skiing in colorado and there doesn't seem to be a big uproar. It seems climbing gets all this attention as an extremely dangerous sport; now I know there are probably more skiers and there are certain ratios of participants to deaths, but remember the climbing season is all year round.

 

Maybe it does get a lot of attention, and I just don't know it.

 

I wonder how many of those 13 deaths in Colorado are avalanche victims skiing in the backcountry and how many are at resorts? Regardless, you do have a good point: climbing is sensationalized in the media and certainly draws more attention when things go wrong. Perhaps it is because climbing is less mainstream. I'd bet a fairly large percentage of the population in mountainous regions has been skiing at least once, knows someone who skis, works with a skier, ect., certainly much more than with climbing. Additionally, most of the skiers never venture outside ski area boundaries and thus never need to be "rescued". How many skiers at lift areas, especially larger resorts where folks take their vacations, are even aware it's possible to ski without lifts? How many non-skiers do? Skiing is generally thought of as a safe activity, reinforced by personal experience to many people. Climbing rescues are somewhat commonplace and make the news, people have less first hand experience to interpret these stories and it gets tagged as "dangerous" and "reckless".

 

I guess another reason might be the perception of avalanches and avalanche accidents. They seem to be protrayed as acts of God, natural occurances outside our control. Climbing accidents seem to be portrayed as human error.

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Greg_W said:

JoshK said:

Wow, what bullshit. This sets a pretty stupid precedent. But, I dunno, maybe it was set before.

I would have to disagree. This British skier, and all skiers, should be held responsible for their actions on the slopes; especially if accidents occur due to disregard for safe practices.

 

I would agree if they do find (witnesses? besides the son of course) that he was doing something stupid/drunk/etc. he should be held liable. I think it's more likely it was an overcrowded slope (like most in CO) full of bad skiers. I've been hit by other people before and generally it's because they have nearly been hit by others. In any event, I manage to control myself and not run into a tree.

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JoshK said:

This is another great reason why resort skiing is retarted.

 

I tink maybe Josh is retarted. He ton't know how to spell retarded. At least he can count. cantfocus.gif

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If it can be proven that the guy was skiing out of control, then it seems clear that some criminal charges should be tendered. How different is it than tailgating, or failing to head check before a lane change while driving? Just today, I witnessed a high-speed accident on I-5, completely avoidable if the at-fault driver had been following the rules.

 

Similarly, I believe that there are certain circumstances under which a climbing partner might be charged.

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Don't know for sure, but seems like if someone took a newbie out that there could be room for this....have to ponder, though I'm sure there are people here who could come up with a scenario in a snap.

 

Let's not thread drift this just yet though. I'd like to hear if others think this guy could/should be charged or not.

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Similarly, I believe that there are certain circumstances under which a climbing partner might be charged.

 

I vaguely remember something about a climber getting sued (in civil court) for dropping his partner while belaying. It seems this "climber" represented himself as having 12 yrs of experience and took a newbie out climbing, only to top rope directly off the slings, which promptly burned through while lowering.

 

Personally, I think the whole civil liability thing is way out of hand. I also think it's sad that this find-somebody-to-blame syndrome has infected the criminal justice system as well - the point I was trying to make with the skiing article.

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Gotta love google:

 

From: Alan Lindsay (alindsay@networld.com)

Subject: Accident victim suing "Expert"

 

View this article only

Newsgroups: rec.climbing

Date: 2001-04-29 17:43:59 PST

 

Check out: http://www.sltrib.com/04292001/utah/93201.htm

 

In short, Lady meets guy who claims to have been climbing for 12 years.

He invites her to go climbing with him. Something goes wrong with the

TR (details are sketchy, but it looks like the rope was run directly

through the webbing). She falls, massive injuries and gets word that

this dude's maybe not as swift as he let on . Figures he oughta pay,

since she trusted his representation that he knew what he was doing and

it would be safe.

 

It's a complex issue, but I gotta admit; if he made the mistake it looks

like he made, he oughta bear some liability.

 

(as a side note, she also finds out he's not as SINGLE as he let on,

either)

 

 

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Wired_Knut said:

JoshK said:

This is another great reason why resort skiing is retarted.

 

I tink maybe Josh is retarted. He ton't know how to spell retarded. At least he can count. cantfocus.gif

 

Yeah, spelling critique time. I can't remember how many times we've been over how idiotic that is on this board... moon.gifthe_finger.gif

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JoshK said:

Wow, what bullshit. This sets a pretty stupid precedent. But, I dunno, maybe it was set before. This is another great reason why resort skiing is retarted. Thanks, but I'll go find my turns away from the mob of idiots.

Not bullshit. There's lots of reasons for wanting to assign responsibility. Insurance (life and the resort's liability) are the biggest reasons.

Clearly, for past precedent, the British dude will not rot in jail for years.

 

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allison said:

 

Similarly, I believe that there are certain circumstances under which a climbing partner might be charged.

 

You can't be serious???? A climbing partner? Whatever happened to making an assesment of the person you're climbing w/? Whatever happened to personal accountability? That is why this place is soooo fricken litigatious (spelling) and why insurance is sooo damn high...

 

The best thing about climbing is its you and someone you trust to everything to cover your own ass and not being beholden to some goddamned rule...otherwise, what's the point of an adventure?????? It wouldn't really be one w/o some judgement of risk vs. payoff...you choose the risk (ie, clip bolts, minimal...or solo, maximum) and the payoff is determined by you...

 

This is not a highway system where you have mass folks doing it (at least not yet)...

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Scenario went like this:

 

Idiot guy hits on girl and convinces to go climbing.

 

Girl has no idea what she is in for, just trusts the "expert".

 

Expert makes idiotic mistake - there is no way to interpret rope on webbing for top-roping as anything other than dangerous negligence.

 

Girl falls, suffers life-changing injury, gets no damages and is stuck with the medical bills. No wonder she sued.

 

The thing is that in this case the partnership wasn't for real. When two people that know what they're doing climb together they're both implicitly acknowledging that error on behalf of one person can lead to death or injury for either or both.

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fleblebleb said:

Scenario went like this:

 

Idiot guy hits on girl and convinces to go climbing.

 

Girl has no idea what she is in for, just trusts the "expert".

 

Expert makes idiotic mistake - there is no way to interpret rope on webbing for top-roping as anything other than dangerous negligence.

 

Girl falls, suffers life-changing injury, gets no damages and is stuck with the medical bills. No wonder she sued.

 

The thing is that in this case the partnership wasn't for real. When two people that know what they're doing climb together they're both implicitly acknowledging that error on behalf of one person can lead to death or injury for either or both.

 

Simple enough mistake trusting the guy...Who's mistake though? HERS...so the guy is an idiot, so what?? She trusted him, he didn't make her do anything...Let's face it, climbing is inherently an activity that has stacks of potential energy to really fuck your shit up if things go wrong...totally sux for her, but still her responsibility...You will not convince me otherwise.

 

I don't climb with anyone w/o doing an "assesment"...and i hope new partners do the same thing w/ me...its MY bizness and MY ass...

 

The only climbing scenario that i could see, is a guide-client or school-student relationship. Then you are contracting for a certain skill set, judgement, and care.

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when we were youths my friend got charged with 3rd degree assault for landing on person when out skiing at crystal. buddy got taken out of there. the charge was dropped against my friend, but buddy filed a civil suit against him. my friend's insurance company covered him.

 

skiing in control is part of skiing. if you cannot do that, then you are a hazard/liability to everyone else and do not deserve to be skiing. read the back of your lift ticket there are the rules and a release of liabilty for the resort.

 

washington state i believe does have laws about skiing in control.

 

i wonder if that guy had a ski helmet if he would have lived??

 

 

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Erik, I read an article that said that 30% of fatalities in a year (I think it was the 2000-2001 season) were wearing helmets. That told me that these people were intending to ski aggressively.

 

I totally agree with you that skiing in control is a basic part of skiing.

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