No criminal charges to be filed against Brit | SummitDaily.com
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No criminal charges to be filed against Brit

BRECKENRIDGE – Even before Summit County’s district attorney announced Thursday he would not file criminal charges against an English skier involved in a fatal collision, lawyers representing the victim’s family filed papers in federal court initiating a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert held a press conference at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. He told television, radio and print reporters he had decided the day before that witness statements, police and ski patrol reports, and the facts of the case did not support pursuing prosecution.

In dealing with a possible manslaughter charge, Hurlbert said, “We have to look at the actions of Mr. Wills before the collision. The one witness who could testify to that said he (Wills) was in control and was not going too quickly.”



Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Robert Wills Sunday following a collision on Peak 9, holding him on assault charges.

Wills, a 31-year-old scaffolding worker from Plymouth, England, was scheduled to return home the next day from his skiing vacation in Breckenridge.



The possible charges were upgraded to manslaughter when Richard Henrichs, the skier on the other end of the collision, died from injuries sustained in the crash. Henrichs was a 56-year-old advertising salesman from Naperville, Ill.

“It appears this was a horrible, horrible accident,” Hurlbert said. “My heart goes out to Mr. Henrichs’ family.”

The prosecutor said there are two messages to take away from this incident: First, this type of accident is exceedingly rare, Hurlbert said. According to Breckenridge Ski Resort, there is only one fatality at the ski area for every 23 million skier visits. The second message is that people should be cautious on the slopes.

Hurlbert said the time Wills spent in jail should serve to remind people how seriously law enforcement and the justice system view such accidents.

“If a person is skiing recklessly, if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, we will prosecute,” Hurlbert said.

Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales said he believes the law holds people accountable and that Hurlbert “made the right call.”

Following the announcement, Breckenridge Ski Resort chief operating officer Roger McCarthy issued a press release saying the accident was a tragedy for all people involved. The release also said the ski area will continue to focus on safety.

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A civil suit in progress

Hurlbert said he spoke to Henrichs’ family Wednesday night to advise of the decision he had made. In the press conference, Hurlbert said he felt the family understood his decision and the burden of proof required to convict Wills on criminal charges.

Attorneys representing the Henrichs family will have to meet a different standard of proof in a civil suit. Just 15 minutes before Hurlbert’s announcement, attorneys from the Denver-based Jim Chalat Law Offices, a noted ski law firm, filed a civil action in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The suit, according to court documents, alleges that Wills was uphill from Henrichs before the collision and, as stipulated in Colorado skiing statutes, was required to yield and avoid an accident.

Hurlbert said in his address Thursday that this fact of the crash was not clear from the three witnesses’ reports and ski patrol reports.

The civil suit also claims that Wills was skiing in a negligent manner. A jury would determine any amount of damages to be awarded to the Henrichs family; the minimum amount in federal court is $75,000.

“It’s very common for civil matters and criminal matters to correspond,” said Russell Hatten, an attorney in the Chalat Law Offices. “The burden of proof in criminal cases is “beyond a reasonable doubt,’ much higher than the standard in civil cases, in which the standard is “a preponderance of evidence.'”

As of Thursday afternoon, process servers had not yet delivered a summons to Wills. The Summit County Jail released Wills shortly after the district attorney’s announcement that charges would not be filed. Wills and unidentified family and friends were loaded into an SUV in the sheriff’s office garage and left the scene. Within the next hour, the family had checked out of its room at the Great Divide Lodge and were reportedly headed to Denver International Airport.

Pamela Mackey, a Denver defense attorney who in the past has represented Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy and Jeane Newmaker, the mother prosecuted for the April 2000 “rebirthing” therapy death of her daughter, issued a statement Thursday on behalf of Wills.

The press release called the accident tragic and described the events before and after the crash.

“Mr. Wills deeply regrets the accident,” the release said. “Mr. Wills and his family are keeping the Henrichs family in their thoughts and prayers.”

The statement did not address the civil suit. Once served, Wills and his attorney will have 30 days to respond to the claim. The civil summons would not prevent Wills from returning to England.

Ryan Henrichs, Richard’s 28-year-old son who lives in Denver, said from his family’s home in Illinois Thursday that the Chalat attorneys advised them not to comment on the district attorney’s decision. The Henrichs family was gathered at the Naperville home, and services were scheduled for that afternoon.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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