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Banged-up boarder could face charges

Rick CarrollAspen, CO Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE A snowboarder who broke his pelvis and a vertebra after colliding with a snowmobile at Snowmass could face criminal charges stemming from consumption of alcohol 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, including 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. Investigation reports also say Rath had alcohol on his breath at the time of the collision. 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 an employee of the Skico, and the collision happened in the Burlingame Flats area, near the superpipe for the Honda Ski Tour. Tester claimed that the Skico 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 of drinking while snowboarding, given the on-mountain party atmosphere the Skico sanctioned during the Honda Ski Tour.”They were pouring booze so heavily, and the next minute this guy’s getting investigated?” she said. Tester said the Skico continually stonewalled her when she asked for the accident report. She also said the Skico is spurring the probe in an effort to diminish the merits of any civil action Rath may take against the company.”If he were convicted, that would give Skico a great argument before the jury,” Tester said. Skico 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.”In the meantime, prosecutor Nichols would not talk about what, if any, plans she has regarding Rath. “I don’t discuss cases until they are filed,” she said.Smythe said that if Nichols charges Rath, it would be for violating a criminal provision of the Colorado Skier Safety Act, which states: “No person shall move uphill on any passenger tramway or use any ski slope or trail while such person’s ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol.”Rath’s injuries may be punishment enough, Smythe said.”They could decide not to prosecute it, given the whole totality of it, and whether it serves justice or not,” Smythe said. Smythe said the Skico did not contact police about investigating the incident, and launching a probe is standard procedure when evidence of alcohol consumption surfaces.”I certainly haven’t gotten a call from Skico management or their lawyer about this, subtle or not-so-subtle,” he said. “I don’t even know how the issue of alcohol came up.”A conviction could diminish the value of his lawsuit should Rath chose to file one, Bellack said. “It certainly would be relevant,” he said. 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, Skico employee K.C. Steury, wrote in a witness statement that he stopped the snowmobile in order to avoid a collision with Rath. Steury also stated that he was delivering the snowmobile, with the trailer in tow, to Honda crew members for the event “tear-down.”But before he reached his destination, which he accessed via the same route he took during the entire event, he spotted Rath snowboarding toward him, the report said. That prompted him to hit the brakes. “He was going fast, and he tried to jump the trailer,” Steury wrote.Steury added, “I pulled out into Burlingame flats, saw guest, and stopped so there would be no confusion. I thought I gave him enough room to decide which direction to go to avoid the incident. It appeared he was going fast and did not turn.”Another reported 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 Cabin run [master course area] 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. As a result, the Snowmass Police Department is investigating this accident.” (The Colorado State Parks Snowmobile Report was issued because snowmobiles are registered with the state’s parks department.)Tester said Rath did not have enough time to make a sound judgment call.”There was no time to react,” she said. “It was either skid into the snowmobile or try to jump over it. He tried to jump over it.”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.”Rick Carroll can be reached at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.

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