Two Colorado Snowboarders Face Unprecedented Criminal Charges
Two Colorado snowboarders have been charged with reckless endangerment and a possible $168,000 in restitution. Evan Hannibal of Vail and Tyler DeWitt of Summit County pleaded not guilty in a Colorado Fifth Judicial District Court on September 28, and their next court appearance is October 27. This is the first time criminal charges have been brought against winter backcountry travelers in Colorado for triggering an avalanche, and it might be one of the first in North America.
Hannibal and DeWitt triggered a size R3D3 avalanche on March 25, 2020, above the West Portal of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel. The slide damaged remote avalanche control equipment and buried a service road used for highway maintenance. Details about the incident can be found in the Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s accident report.
The Colorado Sun’s Jason Belvins recently published a thought-provoking piece (if you can check your emotions) on this unusual and unprecedented case. Belvins quotes Ethan Greene, the executive director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, stating the charges against DeWitt and Hannibal “bring up a lot of complicated issues.” We could not agree more.
There is one thing we want to emphasize, and hope is not lost in the legal malaise of this story. Avalanche accidents, while unfortunate, provide significant educational benefit. Accidents happen because something went wrong and mistakes were made. One of the ways we learn is by reflecting on our mistakes. Reviewing avalanche accident reports help us to learn so we don’t repeat the same mistakes.
We encourage all backcountry skiers to examine the accident reports from this incident and others. All U.S. accident reports and statistics are compiled here by the CAIC.