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Ski safety debate continues

SHOTLEY GATE, England – When Susan Cracknell, lying in bed late at night in England, heard the radio news report that a man had been arrested in Breckenridge following a skiing accident, she leapt from the bed. She paced and had trouble returning to sleep.

Cracknell’s son died in 1997 as a result of a collision at Vail Mountain. Her 33-year-old son, Alan Cobb, died from a head injury after being hit by Nathan Hall, then an employee at Vail Mountain.

A jury convicted Hall in November 2000 of criminally negligent homicide. Hall served 90 days in jail, in addition to probation, community service and restitution payments.



Cracknell, a resident of Shotley Gate in East Anglia, England, hoped that Hall’s trial and conviction had set a precedent. She said Friday the loss is still difficult to think about.

“His birthday would have been March 9 – it gets kind of hard then,” Cracknell said.



Sunday, Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Englishman Robert Wills after he collided with another skier at Breckenridge. Richard Henrichs, 56, of Naperville, Ill., died of multiple injuries after the collision.

The jail released Wills Thursday after Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announced he would not pursue charges against the 31-year-old.

Cracknell said she was disappointed.

“I wanted to help set a precedent,” Cracknell said. “I understand there’s still a problem with accidents. It doesn’t seem as if it’s going to work.”

Attorneys representing Henrichs’ family filed a civil suit for wrongful death in U.S. District Court in Denver on Thursday. The family will seek damages from Wills.

Cracknell said she, too, would have filed a civil suit against Hall, but she didn’t have the money.

“I wish the family every luck,” she said, “because, there’s got to be something wrong there.”

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The appearance of risk and tourism

Some media commentators in England this week questioned why Britons would travel to American ski areas with the threat of possible incarceration should they be involved in an accident. Vanessa Fischer, spokeswoman for the 27,000-member Ski Club of Great Britain, said Friday a large part of the English public was surprised Wills was arrested so quickly.

Fischer said criticism was harsh at times, but the ski club defended American resorts as wonderful places for skiing.

“In defense, we were saying that the situation is fairly unusual,” Fischer said from Val D’Isere in France. “Often the facilities in America are much better than in Europe. There’s no language problems, the ski schools are very good and the grooming is very good.”

Fischer said the debate about safety and skier responsibility that emerges with fatalities in Colorado each year is not discussed as much in Europe. She said the litigious side “is very much American,” although concerns about injuries and accidents are rising in Europe. In addition, she said, crowded slopes and lift lines don’t seem to be as big a problem as they are in the United States.

“Before, if it was an accident, it was just an accident,” Fischer said. “If you go off-piste, it’s your decision, and you’re on your own. Whereas, in America, it’s very different.”

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A brief history of skiing civil lawsuits:

The British man arrested Sunday in the fatal ski accident at Breckenridge was only the third in Colorado in 15 years to be taken into custody by police in such cases. The two men who previously faced criminal charges both served time in jail.

Civil lawsuits are much more common. The standard of proof for proving negligence is lower in civil cases than it is in criminal cases.

The family of Richard Henrichs, the 56-year-old from Naperville, Ill., who was killed in the Peak 9 accident Sunday, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging Robert Wills was at fault in the wrongful death of Henrichs.

The Chalat Law Offices, whose attorneys will litigate the case, have handled similar cases in recent years:

n Coxon vs. Bond – Ryan Bond collided with Benjamin Coxon, a Scotland resident, while both were skiing at Winter Park on April 4, 2000. Coxon was in a private ski class, downhill from Bond, before the accident. Coxon suffered a broken leg and head injury.

Bond admitted liability and settled the case out of court for $100,000.

n Sale vs. Dixon – Tamara Sale, a member of the Women’s Synchronized Ski Team, was practicing with the team on Vail Mountain on April 16, 2000. The defendant in the case hit Sale, causing a broken arm, leg and jaw, nerve damage and other injuries.

The defendant settled out of court for $500,000.

n Bedo vs. Klarzuk – Chris Klarzuk was enrolled in a snowboarding class at Copper Mountain on Feb. 1, 2000, when he hit Donna Bedo on the Loverly trail. Bedo was downhill from Klarzuk, who was reportedly snowboarding at a high speed. Klarzuk left the scene but was caught by Bedo’s husband. Bedo suffered a broken arm.

The case was dismissed with prejudice after a settlement for $100,000.

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


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