Men Facing Criminal Charges for Triggering Colorado Avalanche Claim CAIC Violated Their 4th & 5th Amendment Rights

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Video courtesy of The Colorado Sun

Two snowboarders facing criminal charges and $168,000 in restitution for triggering an avalanche that buried an access road of the Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnels in Colorado in March are claiming the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) violated their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

In a first-of-its-kind motion filed on Wednesday, the snowboarder’s attorney alleges the Go-Pro video (footage above) used by prosecutors as evidence should never have been handed over to Summit County prosecutors. The men claim they gave the video to the CAIC in good faith, not expecting it to be used as evidence against them.

“He (Hannibal) believed he was just contributing to overall knowledge of avalanches. It’s now being used to prosecute. You got to tell them, ‘What we’re using could be used against you.'”

– attorney Jason Flores-Williams

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure; the Fifth contains protection against self-incrimination.

The two men, identified as Tyler DeWitt of Silverthorne and Evan Hannibal of Vail, 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. The whole incident was caught on a helmet cam worn by one of the defendants.

The case could have implications that extend far beyond Colorado, and Flores-Williams believes his clients are being made an example, reports KDVR:

“This is absolutely ridiculous. We’re fighting this message being sent that going forward skiing and backcountry life might be criminalized. What we’re doing here is defending the backcountry and this has implications throughout the entire Mountain West.”

– attorney Jason Flores-Williams

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center responded to FoxNews 31’s request for comment, saying that the motion’s assertions:

“…are neither grounded in fact nor warranted by existing law. Many of the allegations regarding the CAIC and its (role) in this incident are clear mischaracterizations of the events the motion attempts to describe. It is also clear the motion does not reflect an understanding of the mission of the CAIC or its long-standing support of and coordination with the backcountry community, private sector avalanche safety groups, and other government agencies including local law enforcement. We hope the attorney’s legal tactics will not affect our ability to continue to promote public safety.”

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.

CDOT had invested in 15 new O’bellx avalanche control systems in 2019 at the cost of $120,000 each, plus installation.

A snowboarder-triggered slide buried a chunk of the highway in Colorado on March 25, damaging infrastructure. Photo by the CAIC.

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 negligently and unnecessarily endangered everyone on the roadways below, reports Summit Daily.

A trial is scheduled for late March.

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10 thoughts on “Men Facing Criminal Charges for Triggering Colorado Avalanche Claim CAIC Violated Their 4th & 5th Amendment Rights

  1. Isn’t it the skiers responsibility to admit to starting the avalanche in the first place? They are liable for damages just as they would be for starting a forest fire. The criminal charges probably stem from not reporting in the first place. It’s unhelpful to cast any blame for their accident on the avalanche forecasters. .

  2. If these guys were within their legal right to ride there, it doesn’t seem like they should be facing criminal charges. But they should be liable for fixing or replacing whatever property they destroyed.

  3. So close to the tunnel & roadways, this is not even close to correctly being characterized as “backcountry”. Jut fools on a hill.

      1. “Outside boundaries? Check. Unmarked? Check. Unpatrolled? Check. No consistent avalanche mitigation? Check.”

        All of those conditions apply to the area behind my house. That’s not backcountry. It’s my backyard. LOL dude.

  4. Why were the O’Bellx’s in the runout and not in the starting zone? CDOT would have destroyed their own infrastructure with that location.

    1. CDOT has been operating their for 50+ years and it took these two guys to teach how to manage their equipment? Sounds reasonable!

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