Banged-up boarder could be charged
SNOWMASS ” A snowboarder who broke his pelvis and a vertebra after colliding with a snowmobile at Snowmass could face criminal charges stemming from drinking the day of the accident.
The Snowmass Village Police Department has completed its investigation of the Feb. 24 accident that sent Largo, Fla., resident Steve Rath to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he underwent treatment for seven broken bones and a splinter fracture to one of his legs.
Police Chief Art Smythe said Thursday that the department will turn the investigation’s findings over next week to chief deputy district attorney Gail Nichols, who will decide whether to prosecute Rath, 39.
Rath’s blood-alcohol content was checked after the accident, but the police chief declined to reveal it. Police reports also say Rath had alcohol on his breath at the time of the collision.
Accident reports, both from Snowmass ski patrol and Colorado State Parks, indicate that the snowmobile, which had a trailer attached to it, was stationary when Rath collided with it. The driver, K.C. Steury, wrote in a witness statement that he stopped the snowmobile in order to avoid a collision with Rath.
“He was going fast, and he tried to jump the trailer,” Steury wrote.
Another report also suggested that Rath’s speed may also have been a factor.
“Witnesses at scene claimed snowboarder was going very fast,” Rick Kelly, a ski patroller who responded to the collision, wrote in a statement that is part of the ski patrol’s accident report. “Observations revealed over 600 feet of straight-line snowboard track down … into accident site.”
Kelly’s report also suggested that Rath had been drinking before the crash, a claim supported in a Colorado State Parks Snowmobile Report, which states: “Paramedics from Snowmass Wildcat Ambulance reported the smell of alcohol on the injured party’s breath.”
One person keeping a keen eye on the developments is Snowmass attorney Cynthia Tester, whom Rath recently enlisted to explore the possibility of a negligence lawsuit against the Aspen Skiing Co. The snowmobiler was a company employee and the collision happened in the Burlingame Flats area, near the superpipe for the Honda Ski Tour.
Tester claimed the ski company initiated the investigation the day after the accident in an effort to pin blame on Rath. She also noted that it is “ironic” Rath could face criminal charges for drinking while snowboarding, given the on-mountain party atmosphere Aspen sanctioned during the Honda Ski Tour.
“They were pouring booze so heavily, and the next minute this guy’s getting investigated?” she said.
Company attorney David Bellack said Tester is off base.
“This whole notion that we are behind the investigation reveals a compete misunderstanding of the criminal justice system,” he said. “There’s no structure whereby someone requests that someone be charged.”
Tester said Rath is recovering, albeit slowly.
“His ribs are in bad shape, and he’s on crutches,” she said. “He’s not doing that well.”