Report: Victim in snowmobile crash on back of Aspen Mountain died from spinal cord injury
A Washington, D.C., man who died Saturday snowmobiling on the backside of Aspen Mountain suffered a whiplash-like spinal injury often seen in car accidents, according to a police report and other sources.
John Boyd, 40, apparently caught softer snow at the edge of Midnight Mine Road and drove off the road’s relatively steep edge, said Brad Gibson, an investigator with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.
No one witnessed the crash, which resulted in a fatal spinal column injury known as an atlanto-occipital dislocation, according to Gibson’s report about the incident. The report quotes a Jefferson County pathologist who conducted an autopsy on Boyd’s body.
“It was pure accident,” Gibson said Wednesday. “It’s a terrible tragedy (where) bad timing and bad circumstances (occurred at the same time).”
Boyd, who was in town with a group of friends celebrating 40th birthdays, and a friend drove up Midnight Mine on separate snowmobiles about 1:30 p.m. Saturday and proceeded to spend the afternoon skiing Aspen Mountain’s backside. The friend, who described himself as an expert snowmobiler, said Boyd had just two days of experience piloting a snowmobile, though Boyd apparently did the skiing while his friend gave him rides back to the top three times, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
The two men each drank a beer before riding the machines down the road at dusk.
“(The friend) told me he was riding in front of Boyd and he stopped to allow Boyd to catch him,” Gibson wrote in the report. “(The friend) said after 10 minutes, Boyd did not arrive and he could not hear Boyd’s sled coming down the road.”
The friend then headed back up the road, but didn’t immediately see any sign of Boyd. He said he spent about 40 minutes driving his snowmobile up and down Midnight Mine twice looking for his friend.
“On the way back down the second time, (the friend) said he saw the machine Boyd rode just off the left side of Midnight Mine Road under an evergreen tree,” according to the report.
However, the friend couldn’t see Boyd’s body and thought he’d gotten the snowmobile stuck and might have walked up the road toward cabins seeking help. The friend drove up to the cabins, but found no sign of inhabitants, so he returned to the crashed snowmobile and at that point spotted Boyd’s body uphill of the machine, the report states.
The friend went to Boyd, checked his pulse and found none. He then removed his helmet and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions to no avail.
The man then drove his snowmobile up Midnight Mine until he was able to call 911, the report states. Pitkin County emergency dispatchers received a call about the incident at 7:21 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release.
Gibson examined the scene and discovered that the left side of Boyd’s snowmobile went off the packed-down snow on the road 30-to-40 yards below a curve in the road, and on to soft, untracked powder on the road’s left side. He speculated Wednesday that the left front ski might have caught the powder and sent the snowmobile off the road.
The snowmobile sustained little damage and only the front sun visor of Boyd’s full-face helmet was cracked, the report states. The helmet was otherwise undamaged and Boyd suffered no apparent trauma to his face or head, with only a small abrasion on or near his left ear, according to the report and Gibson.
Pitkin County Coroner Steve Ayers ordered a CT scan of Boyd’s body after it was taken down the mountain to Aspen Valley Hospital, though he could not determine a cause of death from the scan, the report states.
A pathologist discovered the AO dislocation during an autopsy Tuesday at the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.
According to online medical sources, such injuries often occur after rapid deceleration causes whiplash and are common in automobile and motorcycle accidents.
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With a response rate to the 2020 Census survey below 40%, Pitkin County’s population appears to have been undercounted by at least 850 people.