Witnesses, friends dispute Snowmass skier-collision lawsuit
Chicago resident Randy Wolf was with a group of three skiers that included Michael Sura on April 7, the day the Snowmass Village resident struck another skier that led to a federal lawsuit that was filed this week.
Wolf, however, said the suit’s allegations that Sura was “racing” down Mick’s Gully, an intermediate blue run at Snowmass ski area, or that plaintiff Stuart Pendleton was severely injured, are simply false.
“First of all, the only injury reported was that of Mr. Sura, who sustained a broken ankle and did require several surgeries, including nine screws in his ankle and leg and hours of rehabilitation,” Wolf said in an email to The Aspen Times. He also was interviewed by telephone Thursday.
On Tuesday, Pendleton, 47, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, filed a negligence lawsuit against Sura in the U.S. District Court of Denver. The Times reported about the allegations on Wednesday, sparking criticism from Sura’s friends who insisted the suit was wildly off-base and the article was unfairly misleading. One friend of Sura’s, Basalt resident Russ Andrews, called the article a “hit piece” in a letter published in today’s commentary section.
Reached on Thursday, Sura, 72, declined to comment about the lawsuit because he had not been served with the complaint.
The suit was filed by the Denver law firm Leventhal & Puga P.C., whose attorneys did not return telephone messages this week. Likewise, Pendleton didn’t respond to email or voice messages seeking elaboration about his suit’s claims.
Pendleton’s complaint seeks a jury trial and claims that he was in Snowmass Village as a volunteer instructor for the National Disabled Veterans Sports Clinic, an annual event that attracts veterans and active-duty military members who are disabled.
Sometime after 10:30 that morning, a paraplegic skier with Pendleton “slid to a stop and his bi-ski tipped over” about midway down Mick’s Gully, the suit says.
“At or around that time, defendant Michael Sura approached (Pendleton) and the disabled skier at a fast and uncontrolled speed,” the suit says. “As (Pendleton) and the disabled skier prepared to start skiing again, (Sura) collided directly into (Pendleton).”
Sura also hit the bi-ski, a device consisting of two skis attached to a bucket seat, the suit alleges.
Wolf said while it’s inarguable that Sura struck Pendleton, he was casually skiing down the run, in full control. The suit’s allegations that he was racing and recklessly skiing are wrong, he said.
Wolf was with another skier when they went down Mick’s, while Sura was “well behind” them, Wolf said. As Wolf and his fellow skier were taking their final run down Mick’s Gully — they had planned a round of golf for later that day with Sura — they spotted the disabled skier “laying on his side” under a blind spot.
After their run, “We don’t see Mike, and we know something must have happened,” Wolf said.
That the disabled skier was having difficulties showed that “this was not the ideal spot for him. And it was a blind spot. We almost ran over him,” Wolf said.
Aspen Skiing Co. would not release any documents related to the accident; however, the Times obtained them from another source Wednesday. Skico reports indicate Sura injured his right ankle. Ski patrol transported him, by toboggan, from the scene of the crash to the Snowmass Medical Clinic, which is located in the area of the Snowmass Mall.
Those close to Sura said he was at Snowmass Clinic for a good three hours after the accident.
“No other accident victim was admitted to the clinic during the time we were there,” someone knowledgable of the incident said in an email. “If this ‘victim’ really had a broken ankle, he would have come down in a sled like Mike did. … Mike was in touch with the ski patrol in the days after the accident and as far as we know, there were no other reports of any injury besides Mike, who had the broken ankle with surgeries and PT.”
Skico records obtained by the Times show no indication that Pendleton was transported to the medical clinic or that he injured his ankle. A collision report form indicates Pendleton was “unable to sign” it because his “right hand did not function.”
The suit makes no mention of a hand injury and says that on the morning in question, at 10:58, “ski patrol transported (Pendleton) to the medical clinic by toboggan and stretcher.”
Pendleton’s brief summary of what happened, as told to ski patrol, said: “My disabled skier slid to a stop, we got up, started to ski and got nailed by a skier.”
Another witness, Kevin Fitzpatrick of Woburn, Massachusetts, reported that “We were in middle of run. Veteran had fallen. Instructor had gotten him up and another skier came over lip and hit instructor and vet.” Fitzpatrick did not return a telephone message seeking comment Thursday.
“There was no ‘racing,’” Wolf’s email said. “Mr. Sura is 72 years old. He has lived in Snowmass for 38 years and has never had an incident before. He volunteers his time with my disabled son who has autism, taking him on jeep rides and skiing with him. It is very unfortunate that this incident occurred — no one is disputing that.”
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”