Coroner sued for information in skiing death
April 10, 2003
The widow of a man who died last year in an accident at the Aspen Highlands ski area is suing the Pitkin County coroner to force the release of more information about the incident, including Aspen Skiing Co.’s accident investigation report.
Robert Littlewood of Park City died on Feb. 1, 2002, after apparently falling at the bottom of Troyer’s Trail and sliding, unconscious, into a steep gully below the trail where he suffocated in a small and shallow loose-snow avalanche.
Troyer’s Trail is a green (easiest) run toward the bottom of Highlands that has a short, relatively steep pitch toward the end, where it merges into a potentially confusing confluence of catwalks. A large banner with the word “Slow” is hung across the trail just above the catwalks.
The 67-year-old Littlewood was skiing alone and was not wearing a helmet when the accident occurred.
Littlewood’s widow, Carol Littlewood, has hired attorney William D. Meyer of the Boulder law firm of Hutchinson, Black and Cook to try and gain access to additional information said to be in the files of Pitkin County Coroner Dr. Steve Ayers.
“I’ve been informed by the coroner that he is withholding additional records obtained from third parties,” Meyer said.
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Those records include the Skico’s accident investigation report, which are typically prepared by the patrol and mountain management after a serious accident.
“Clearly, Mrs. Littlewood, as the widow of the deceased, is extremely concerned that all information concerning her husband’s death is not being made available to her,” Meyer wrote in a March 20, 2003, letter to Ayers. “I am not aware of any provision in the Colorado Open Records Act that permits a coroner to retain such material, particularly from the wife of the deceased.”
In his response to Meyer’s letter, Ayers said the Pitkin County policy in regard to certain materials is based on the Denver County coroner’s policy, which “covers the records of any police investigation. As you may know in Colorado the coroner is a police officer,” Ayers wrote.
Meyer is also seeking an additional medical report he believes are in Littlewood’s file, but Ayers wrote in his letter that “We do not have photos or any other information in this case” (outside of the Skico report).
It is the policy of the Pitkin County coroner’s office to release autopsy reports to the public after an investigation has been completed.
A coroner’s investigative report is released, if requested, to the next of kin of the deceased. But any other material in a file is only released by court order or subpoena
In an interview Thursday, Ayers said, “We have reviewed the policy with the county attorney and it is consistent with the state law.”
But Meyer wants a judge to decide whether the Skico’s report, and any other information, should be released.
“In my experience, law-enforcement agencies in general routinely grant victims access to the complete file so they can determine what happened,” Meyer said.
Meyer has asked the Skico for a copy of its ski patrol incident report, but he said the company has not responded.
As to whether Meyer is gathering information to prepare a lawsuit against the Skico in regard to Littlewood’s death, Meyer said, “At this point, I am simply attempting to determine the circumstances of her husband’s death. That’s all I am doing at the moment.”