No charges in Breck skier death
By Bob BerwynRobert Wills, a 31-year-old British man involved in a deadly skiing accident at Breckenridge, was released from the Summit County jail Thursday, March 6, after local law enforcement officials decided not to charge him in the death of Richard Henrichs, 56, of Illinois.Wills was arrested after colliding with Henrichs on Peak 9 Sunday, March 2. Henrichs reportedly hit a tree after the collision. He was transported via Flight for Life to Swedish Medical Center, where he later died of his injuries.Wills was held in jail while authorities tried to decide whether he should be charged in the death. But Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert decided not to charge Wills after reviewing police and ski patrol reports, as well as eyewitness statements, the coroner’s report and medical reports.Hurlbert was unavailable for comment Thursday, but in a news release, the District Attorney’s office in Breckenridge said there "is insufficient evidence to prove a crime occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.""I think the the D.A. made the right decision," says Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales, describing the accident as a "shoulder-to-shoulder" impact that deflected Henrichs into a lone tree. Morales says Wills was arrested after one eyewitness reported that Wills had been skiing in a high-speed tuck position. But Morales says the subsequent investigation could not confirm that initial report."All the information we got was that this was an accident," Morales says."This has been a tragedy for all of the people involved. We extend our condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Henrichs. And we also realize that this situation is traumatic for Mr. Wills," Breckenridge Chief Operating Officer Roger McCarthy said in a prepared statement."Now that the District Attorney has reached a decision in this matter, it is appropriate to comment on the safety questions raised," McCarthy said. "Statistically, skier-to-skier collisions such as this one are very rare, according to state and national data. Skier and snowboarder safety is of paramount importance to Vail Resorts. Our company is committed to setting high standards of safety awareness and education in all areas of operations across our five ski resorts. Our company is an established leader in skier safety initiatives, and we continue to enhance existing programs and develop new ones to address safety concerns on the mountain."There have been other on-slope collisions that resulted in felony charges. In 1989, a Texas man pleaded no contest to criminally negligent homicide after killing an 11-year-old girl at Winter Park. And in January 2001, former Vail lift operator Nathan Hall was convicted of criminally negligent homicide after killing a Denver man in a collision on the last day of the 1997 season.Hall was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 240 hours of community service, an unspecified amount of restitution and three years of probation. As part of his probation, Hall was prohibited from skiing for three years unless it was in conjunction with a skier safety event.Such cases have shown that skiers can be held legally accountable for their actions, though attorneys say each case must be judged on its own merits. Morales says that comparisons between the recent collision at Breckenridge and the Vail collision involving Hall are not valid."It’s like apples and oranges," Morales says, explaining that, in Hall’s case, other skiers noticed Hall skiing dangerously and followed him down the mountain, warning him to slow down.Colorado ski areas are not alone in wrestling with skier safety issues. According to a report on the BBC Web site, Italian authorities in Cortina d’Ampezzo, which hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics, are considering whether to separate skiers and snowboarders after a deadly collision in January. According to the report, the incident also has spurred the Italian sports ministry to consider whether to make helmets mandatory for young skiers. Government and resort officials are meeting to discuss ways to reduce a sharp rise in the number of on-slope accidents, the BBC reports. Without citing sources for its figures, the BBC claims there have been 15 percent more accidents this year than last season.Fourteen people have died at Colorado ski areas this winter, including two who fell from chairlifts. Six skiers died after hitting trees, one strangled on a boundary rope, one crashed in a terrain park, while another died after skiing off a cliff. Last season, a record 16 skiers died on the slopes of the state.Nationally, skier deaths have ranged between 26 and 47 during the past 10 seasons, according to statistics compiled in a recent Denver Post report. In Colorado, those numbers have ranged between three (in the 1995-’96 season), to 16 last year.