Complaint filed in Aspen lift accident
Vail CO, Colorado
A state agency is refusing to divulge details of a complaint against the Aspen Skiing Co. over an accident at Aspen Highlands last ski season.
The complaint concerns a 10-year old girl’s fall from the Cloud Nine lift on Feb. 19; it will be heard before the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board on Thursday.
The Tramway Board is charged with overseeing ski area lift safety. However, board policy prevents complaint information from being released to the public until the board has reviewed both the complaint and any response. The Skico also has declined to release a copy of the complaint until company officials have reviewed its contents and formulated a response.
In the incident in question, Celine Ofenito, of Germany, reportedly fell an estimated 60 feet from the chairlift, lost consciousness momentarily and had to be rushed to the hospital. According to published reports, Ofenito suffered a fractured vertebrae, a partially collapsed lung, a fractured right wrist, multiple muscle strains and internal injuries.
According to a letter sent to a local newspaper by the girl’s father, Roman Ofenito, Celine remained under a doctor’s care after returning to Germany and was facing possible physical disabilities because of her injuries.
Published reports said the girl did not load properly on to the chair nor did she lower the safety bar. She was seen hanging from the chair by one hand for some time before dropping to the ground. Reports in the wake of the accident cited loud music from the lift operators’ shack as preventing the operators from hearing the girl and her seatmate.
The Skico said the lift operators were “disciplined” after the accident, but admitted no liability.
Skico officials have received a copy of the complaint, Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle confirmed Monday; he was unsure if Skico attorney Dave Bellack had drafted a formal response.
Hanle said that neither he nor Skico Senior Vice President David Perry would comment on the complaint “until we’ve had a chance to talk with each other about it.” As far as Hanle knew, the complaint was filed by the family of Celine Ofenito.
According to an e-mail from Tramway Board spokeswoman Angie Kinnaird Linn, the complaint is not being made public because it is considered “part of an enforcement process and within the informal investigation phase. The party from whom the Board requested a response is an area operator, which is the holder of a tramway license over which the Board has jurisdiction. It is possible that any complaint submitted to a Board can result in disciplinary action. For this reason, until a respondent has replied to the allegations and the Board has reviewed the information, the process is considered to be an investigation and possibly pending an enforcement action.”
It is the division’s policy, she continued, that “the investigatory files remain closed through the deliberative process. Deliberative process, for use in this policy, is determined to end when the Board makes a decision to accept the results of the investigation thus closing the investigatory phase of the action.”
Linn said it is possible that even after the board meets on June 21 in Denver, the complaint and the Skico’s response will remain sealed.
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