Fatal snowmobile crash occurred on bumpy road
January 10, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Deep sadness remains in North Routt County as officials wrap up their investigations and loved ones further realize that 9-year-old Ben Zamzow's death was merely a tragic accident.
Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Julie Arington said Friday that it is hard to point to any specific thing that went wrong when Ben was snowmobiling Jan. 1 on U.S. Forest Service Road 550.
"If we can always generally keep safety in mind, the better for everyone," Arington said.
The Routt County Sheriff's Office has released some more information about the crash, but it still is not specifically known why Ben was ejected from the snowmobile he was driving with three other snowmobilers.
Undersheriff Ray Birch said Ben's snowmobile was traveling at a minimum speed of between 30 to 35 mph on a bumpy, snowpacked road with washboard conditions and berms on both sides.
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Ben grew up snowmobiling, and his parents own Hahn's Peak Roadhouse, which offers snowmobile tours.
Birch described the machine Ben was driving as large and very powerful. Ben weighed less than 70 pounds and his feet did not firmly reach the machine's rails.
"There was significant amounts of ice built up on the rails, which according to our investigators, made it difficult to keep their feet firmly positioned on the rails," Birch said.
There was significant spacing between each of the four riders, and Birch said no one saw Ben ejected from the machine. The machine continued fairly straight and stopped about 100 feet from Ben.
"Many factors could have caused this ejection, such as the condition of the roadway, striking a berm, over-correcting, slipping," Birch said. "The exact cause of his ejection may not be determined."
After coming off the sled, Ben was run over by a snowmobile driven by a 15-year-old, but an autopsy determined Ben was fatally injured before being run over. Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said the official cause of death would be blunt force trauma to the head as a result of being thrown from his snowmobile. There was a helmet found at the accident scene that they think belonged to Ben.
The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife oversees the state's snowmobiling and helps enforce state laws.
The crash occurred on U.S. Forest Service property, but recreation program manager Kent Foster said the federal government’s snowmobiling laws are determined by individual states.
According to Colorado law, children like Ben younger than age 10 are allowed to snowmobile on public lands as long as they are with someone who is older than 15 or with someone who is 14 and has taken a safety course. Children between 10 and 15 years old can snowmobile alone if they have taken the safety course.
There are no specific rules that require people to wear a helmet while snowmobiling, but Foster and Arington said their agencies strongly recommend wearing one.