Summit County judge declares mistrial in criminal avalanche case

Trial rescheduled for early June

The Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels are pictured May 20. A pair of snowboarders are fighting reckless endangerment charges after triggering an avalanche above the Loop Road near the tunnels March 25, 2020.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Summit County Judge Edward Casias declared a mistrial Thursday in the case of Evan Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt due to lack of a sufficient jury. The two snowboarders are charged with reckless endangerment after starting an avalanche near the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels last year.

Potential jurors spaced out inside a courtroom at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge on Thursday morning for the start of the trial. But the hearing was short-lived as Casias was forced to cancel the trial after a majority of the jury pool failed to show up.

“I’m disappointed for the parties not being able to address this the way that they should have today,” Casias said.

Hannibal and DeWitt are each charged with misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment after triggering an avalanche above the Loop Road at the Eisenhower Tunnel in March 2020. Though nobody was injured, the slide covered more than 400 feet of the active roadway below in up to 20 feet of debris and damaged a remote avalanche control unit.

A two-day trial was scheduled to kick off Thursday. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, prospective jurors arrived at the courthouse in two waves for the jury selection process. Casias said a total of 40 jurors were summonsed to take part in the selection, but only a handful actually made the trip.

The court was hoping to put together a jury of six community members, but after the second wave of prospective jurors was questioned, and several were released for cause, only nine remained.

While nine would have worked, Casias noted that the defense and prosecution would have been allowed up to four peremptory challenges each in subsequent interviews, meaning they could excuse prospective jurors without explanation. Casias ultimately decided to declare a mistrial.

“I’m disappointed in the folks that did not show,” Casias said, speaking to the few prospective jurors still in attendance. “There are very few civic responsibilities we ask of you. Jury service and voting really are the two we ask you to be engaged in with your community, and some of the people that were summonsed chose not to. And I will address that with them and probably the community at large.

“It’s an important case. Every case is important to the people for which it effects, and this is one that needs to be heard. And we will reschedule a trial date, but that doesn’t help the fact that you all came today, and we weren’t able to use your services as much as I really, really would have liked to.”

The trial has been rescheduled for June 7-8.


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