Boarder’s speed a factor in crash?
January 18, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A witness to Sunday’s backcountry accident might clear a snowmobile driver of any suspicion of negligence in a collision with a snowboarder, according to a source familiar with the investigation.The witness on Wednesday accompanied investigators from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Forest Service to the scene of the accident near Hurricane Point on Richmond Ridge and helped them piece together what happened.Based on his information, it is believed the snowmobile was traveling up a groomed route around 12 mph during the collision with snowboarder Doran Laybourn, who was heading down the same route, according to the source. The person wanted to remain anonymous because the investigation is ongoing.Law enforcement officials have deemed the witness credible. His name wasn’t released, but it was disclosed he is a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen.The witness was apparently skiing the backcountry alone and hitched a ride to the top of a slope from the snowmobile driver. He was a passenger on the snowmobile when the accident occurred, according to the source familiar with the investigation.The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the accident and is limiting comments. The snowmobile driver and his passenger haven’t been identified.Investigators believe Laybourn was riding at a high rate of speed and was preparing to turn left off the groomed route and into deep powder when the accident occurred. “It looks like he was honking,” the source said.That has led investigators to question if Laybourn’s speed and level of control played a greater role in the accident than any actions by the snowmobile driver, according the source.The accident shattered Laybourn’s right leg and left him with cuts to his head and face. He is undergoing treatment at Aspen Valley Hospital.Royal Laybourn, Doran’s father, has insisted that his discussions with his son and a man riding with his son indicate the snowmobile erred by taking a blind curve on Doran’s side of the right of way. Laybourn also said he feels that the snowmobile was moving at a high rate of speed since his son, a professional snowboarder, wasn’t able to avoid the collision.”If he had a millisecond, he could get out of the way. He’s like a cat,” Royal Laybourn said.An article in Thursday’s Aspen Daily News quoted Doran Laybourn’s riding partner as saying the snowmobile was coming into the corner “pretty hot.”Many backcountry travelers say it is generally understood to stay on the right of backcountry trails, just like on regular streets and highways.According to the website of Colorado State Parks, the agency responsible for monitoring snowmobile use, the Snowmobiler’s Code of Ethics says, “I will keep to the right when meeting another winter recreationist and yield the right of way to downhill traffic.”However, there doesn’t appear to be a law requiring backcountry traffic to stay to the right.Therefore, said the source familiar with the accident investigation, there appears to be no evidence of negligence on the part of the snowmobile driver.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.