No criminal charges will be filed against the driver of a snowmobile that hit and killed 13-year-old skier Ashley Stamp in December, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert made the decision after about four months of investigation, determining that no crime could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
"It certainly was tough," Hurlbert said about the decision. "It was a decision I agonized over, talked with a lot of other prosecutors about.
"It's a complex case; it's a tough case. When anybody has died, it's tough. When it's a 13-year-old girl, it's certainly harder."
Stamp's parents, Kelly and Aaron Stamp, did not comment about the district attorney's decision or whether they will pursue a civil lawsuit.
"We miss her dearly," Kelly Stamp said.
Ashley Stamp, who was a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, died Dec. 19 while practicing for a race at Vail's Golden Peak Race Course. She collided with the snowmobile being driven uphill by Mark Chard, a 27-year-old Vail Resorts employee. Another employee was riding on the snowmobile with Chard. Both reportedly were working on the race crew.
Hurlbert said the investigation indicated Chard was traveling at about 15 mph at the time of the collision. That appeared to be a reasonable speed according to statute, Hurlbert said.
The investigation also showed that the snowmobile had a flag and its headlight was turned on. Chard likely was not using the snowmobile's siren because, to turn it on, the driver has to keep a finger on the siren button. But because a snowmaking gun was working at the time of the crash, a siren probably would not have been heard, Hurlbert said.
Chard was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, Hurlbert said.
Hurlbert also concluded that Stamp was not wearing headphones at the time of the crash, as some witnesses said. Her headphones were too big to fit under her helmet, he said.
The charges Hurlbert considered included felony charges of criminally negligent homicide, vehicular homicide and reckless manslaughter.
However, the speed at which Chard was driving, as well as his actions and the snowmobile's location on the run do not indicate that Chard was acting carelessly or had a conscious disregard for risk, Hurlbert said.
"We decided we could not prove a crime by a reasonable doubt," Hurlbert said.
Police reports and witness statements were considered, as well as results of a test used to determine the snowmobile's approximate speed, he said.
Some witnesses said that a snowmobile had been seen before the race speeding up runs and driving too fast, at one point driving through a group of skiers too quickly and yelling at them, Hurlbert said. However, two snowmobiles were being used at the time, and it "was tough to tell" whether Chard was the snowmobile driver who people were complaining about, Hurlbert said.
Chard will continue to be employed by Vail Resorts, spokeswoman Jen Brown said. After the incident, Chard remained at Vail pending the outcome of the investigation, she said. His duties were modified and he chose not to drive a snowmobile, she said.
Brown said she was not aware of any civil suits related to the case.
"We are respectful of the thorough investigation of this accident conducted by the Colorado State Patrol and the District Attorney's Office," said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Resorts. "We continue to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the Stamp family and friends."
Since the accident, Vail has changed its policies regarding snowmobile use during races, Brown said. Now, snowmobiles are not used in the race area. It is up to the race jury to determine whether a snowmobile can operate during a race, if needed.
Snowmobiles can be used in the race area before and after the race, she said.
"We are exploring additional avenues to limit snowmobile use further," Brown said. "We've undertaken an extensive review of all procedures relating to snowmobile use, training, routes, visibility and warnings."
Some of that review began before the fatal collision, she said.
In Steamboat Springs, reaction to the decision has been kept private.
An official state-ment from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club said that its representatives would not comment on an on-going legal case except to say the club has participated fully in the investigation.
"All of us at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club continue to mourn Ashley's loss and continue to celebrate her life through our memories of her," the statement read.
Denver attorney James Chalat, who has handled several civil cases involving collisions between skiers and snowmobilers, said he would not comment on the district attorney's decision because he has talked with the Stamp family.
Hurlbert said that it is unlikely the decision not to file charges would be changed. The District Court can be petitioned to further learn Hurlbert's reasons for not filing charges.
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