Mother’s grief intensified by lack of answers on son’s fatal accident at Keystone
Jason Taylor, a 27-year-old from Boulder, became Summit County’s first ski fatality of the season at Keystone Resort on the morning of Jan. 20. His mother Lynda says she and her family are still searching for answers.
“I’m trying not to be as emotional as I feel right now,” she explained by phone from her daughter Allie’s home in Connecticut. “This is really tough. It’s tougher by the day, surprisingly.”
Jay, as friends and family better knew him, grew up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts skiing with his older brother Trevor in Vermont since he was 4 or 5 years old, Lynda said. Members of the family remain unable to wrap their minds around how their son, an experienced skier, might have collided with a tree that disastrous Wednesday now five weeks ago and at a speed that would lead to multiple skull fractures and a broken neck just 12-to-15 feet into a forested area on the blue trail known as Elk Run. He was not wearing a helmet, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office.
(The Summit Daily only learned of Taylor’s death when his mother first contacted the paper on Feb. 27. Since December of 2015, Summit County Coroner Regan Wood has opted to stop a longstanding practice of sending out emails alerting the media of area deaths. Unless requested, death notices are no longer provided to the media. The Summit Daily was not informed of the new policy until Wood clarified it on Jan. 26 — six days after Taylor’s death.)
Jay, a self-taught and self-employed glass artist, moved to Boulder from his northeastern Massachusetts home in mid-July 2015 in the hopes of building a life around his passion for the outdoors. According to his mother, aside from being an expert skier, he was a spirited rock climber, trekker, mountain biker and gifted photographer. Through the years, he chased these pleasures all over the world, living in Vancouver, Oregon and Southern California and traveling to Nepal, Thailand and parts of Europe.
“He crafted his art in such a way that he would have the ability to fit in athletic pursuits with that flexibility,” she said. “He loved Boulder and specifically chose Colorado. He was so immensely happy there, and that’s what’s so hurtful about this.”
Lynda saw on Facebook, where she closely followed Jay’s frequent quips and exploits from halfway across the country, that her son was heading to Keystone on Jan. 20 for a ski day. By late that evening, she began to worry when she checked the social networking website and noticed he had not informed his friends and family of his latest adventure. She tried to dial back her natural motherly nerves in such situations, but she just had a feeling something was off.
Visiting his older sister Allie to assist with her four young children, it wasn’t but a moment after Lynda made the decision to pause her anxiety and go to bed around 11:30 p.m. that the doorbell rang.
“Nobody rings the doorbell here,” she said, instantly realizing with its chime that there was a problem. It was the local police, and they were there to deliver the devastating news about the Taylors’ youngest child.
The family arranged for a flight to Denver the next day and made the drive up to Keystone to retrieve their son, his belongings and some semblance of answers. They spent five days in Summit County, in that time meeting with the coroner’s office; the ski resort, too, hosted Lynda, her husband Harry, elder son Trevor and family friends to show them all where Jay had died, offering its best guess how the mind-boggling incident occurred.
The family has since returned to the East Coast with their cremated son and has plans to hold a funeral service at their local church on April 9 in order to give themselves plenty of time to grieve. In the meantime, the Taylors have repeatedly requested additional information from Vail Resorts, Inc.-owned Keystone as well as the coroner’s office as they continue trying to comprehend this personal tragedy.
Lynda has been told the final death report is in the mail, but the details about what happened to Jay — whether he hit an unmarked or covered obstacle, if there’s a chance his equipment was defective and even the precise estimate of a time the incident occurred — have, at least for now, eluded them. They’ve been told they’ll need a lawyer to obtain other on-scene reports and data from Keystone.
And frustration over the liability protections granted Colorado resorts through the Ski Safety Act from 1979 persist.
A request for comment from Keystone Resort on Wednesday afternoon went unreturned. County Coroner Wood also did not respond to a similar inquiry.
“There needs to be a protocol for these types of events,” said Lynda, “and it should not be a family reaching and seeking and calling and asking. It’s important that families have information and know their rights, and those are the things that have been hard to uncover through multiple phone calls because this is presumably a very rare occasion. It’s handled differently probably every time.”
Summit County experienced four snow sport-related deaths in 2015, down from six the year prior. On Tuesday, March 1, 2016’s ski season claimed its second life.
Christopher Dutko, 26 years old and originally from Pennsylvania but working and living in Breckenridge, passed away at St. Anthony Breckenridge Community Clinic Emergency Center at the base of Breckenridge’s Peak 9 after an incident at the ski resort at about 11:15 a.m. The coroner’s office was called to the clinic around noon after witnesses say Dutko lost control while skiing on blue run Sundown after he ran into another skier and came to rest when he hit a tree. The coroner’s report notes he was not wearing a helmet and died due to severe loss of blood following the blunt force trauma.
Reports of these subsequent family catastrophes on Colorado’s ski hills only add to the heartache, and it’s this continued examination into Jay Taylor’s untimely death that helps keep his mother’s mind off of all the anguish.
“We’re in such pain,” said Lynda. “It’s easier to grasp on to this — because it’s concrete — rather than the absolute void, which is the reality that he’s gone. I have been supportive of friends in the loss of their adult children in the past. But I never wanted to join their club. I never imagined.”
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