Responsibility acknowledged in Close death
Eagle County government issued a statement this month that acknowledges responsibility for the death of Jamie Close at the Mt. Sopris Tree Farm in June 2001.
The statement was required as part of the out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed against the county by Jamie’s parents, Steve and Cathy Close of Carbondale.
The Closes agreed in June to drop the suit in return for the statement of responsibility and $100,000. The county paid the settlement fee out of its coffers against the advice of its insurer, which wanted to proceed with litigation, county officials said.
The release of the statement this month fulfills the agreement. The lawsuit was dropped, said Joseph Bennett, an attorney for the Closes.
Jamie Close was killed on June 23, 2001, while playing with friends in a ramshackle skateboard park at the county-owned tree farm in El Jebel. The property is now being converted into Crown Mountain Park.
A large, unsteady piece of metal used as a grinding bar for tricks in the skatepark fell on Close and killed him.
The Closes filed a lawsuit against the county and a citizens group who had agreed to maintain and patrol the skatepark. A judge dropped the two citizens who led the group, Herb Weisbard and Royal Laybourn, from the suit.
However, the county’s letter placed blame on the group, the Mt. Sopris Skateboard Association, for the unsafe conditions at the facility. The county acknowledged it didn’t adequately oversee the association.
The letter, signed by the county commissioners, also vowed that no unsafe, unsupervised facilities would be allowed to open at the former tree farm – specifically not the skatepark.
Bennett said he wrote a draft of the letter and submitted it to the county. The commissioners made some minor changes and approved it.
The Closes stressed in June that the settlement of the lawsuit would never ease their pain. Bennett said is was important to them, however, to see the county acknowledge responsibility.
He criticized Weisbard and Laybourn for ducking responsibility. He said they have “treated this whole thing like a nuisance.”
Following is the letter released this month by the county commissioners in its entirety:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Close:
On behalf of Eagle County, we wish to acknowledge the tragic death of your son, Jamie, at the `skatepark’ in El Jebel. In 1998, the County entered into a formal agreement with the Mt. Sopris Skateboard Association that permitted the Association to operate a `skatepark’ on County property. Eagle County relied upon the Association to operate the facility safely and to keep the buildings in safe condition. Obviously, over time, the `skatepark’ was not maintained and operated by the Association in the responsible manner that the County expected.
At the end of 2000, the written agreement between the County and the Association expired. The County, however, was assured by some members of the Association that the Association was continuing to operate and maintain the facility, and that signatures on a new agreement would be forthcoming. In fact, the County sought to obtain signatures on a new agreement.
In retrospect, it is apparent that the level of supervision and maintenance at the facility was not up to the standards that the County expected. The County acknowledges that a higher level of oversight by the Association should have been required. The County acknowledges that the safety of children in Eagle County is the highest of priorities and regrets that it did not ensure that its expectations regarding children’s safety were fully met by the Association. We deeply regret the loss of your son’s life and sympathize with your loss.
In the hopes that some good can come out of this unfortunate loss, the County agrees that the public safety must be our first and foremost consideration so that such a tragedy does not occur again. Eagle County has no plans to reopen the `skatepark’ unless and until it is assured of safety and proper oversight.
Eagle County Commissioners
Michael L. Gallagher, chairman”
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