The two snowboarders who triggered an avalanche that buried an access road of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels in Colorado on Wednesday, March 25, 2020, have been charged with reckless endangerment and are facing criminal charges and $168,000 in restitution.
Parts of the road were buried 20 feet deep and the slide caused substantial damage to highway infrastructure. The CAIC said in a report at the time:
This was a hard slab avalanche triggered by a snowboarder. The avalanche was medium-sized relative to the path, and large enough to bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a wood frame house, or break a few trees. The avalanche was triggered by a snowboarder riding through wind-drifted snow on a steep cross-loaded terrain feature. The initial avalanche was relatively small. As it ran down the slope, it stepped down to deeper weak layers and eventually gouged down to the ground. (HS-AR-R3D3-O).The avalanche damaged a remote avalanche control unit, used to manage the hazard to the Loop Road, and covered over 400 feet of the roadway with debris up to 20 feet deep. The Loop Road is a service road that is open to the public, but mostly used by highway maintenance workers. It connects the eastbound and westbound portions of Interstate 70 and runs over the top of the west portal of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels.
The two men have been identified as Tyler DeWitt of Silverthorne and Evan Hannibal of Vail. The two snowboarders had made their way up the slope on the west side of the tunnels and rode a line above the tunnels. They triggered a small slide that released a larger, more powerful avalanche. The avalanche danger on the day was rated moderate. Nobody was caught or injured by the slide.
CDOT had invested in 15 new O’bellx avalanche control systems in 2019 at a cost of $120,000 each, plus installation.
The slide damaged one of these remote avalanche control units and buried the Loop Road, which was open to the public, in up to 20 feet of debris. Officials claimed that under different circumstances the slide could have been deadly.
“We’re really lucky it didn’t injure or kill somebody.”
– Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center
There was no legal reason stopping the men from accessing the area and they were within their rights to ride the chute. However, given the circumstances and subsequent danger, officials felt the men acted in a negligent way and unnecessarily endangered everyone on the roadways below, reports Summit Daily.