Avalanche testimony by Colorado Avalanche Information Center boss Ethan Green in a criminal case could hinder the function of the agency, according to the state Attorney General.
Defendant Provided his video
Evan Hannibal provided his helmet video of the avalanche he triggered above Interstate 70 last March. The avalanche buried a service road and destroyed an avalanche mitigation installation protecting I-70. He thought the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) would use his submission to help educate others.
But Summit County prosecutors used the video for a criminal case. They seek restitution for the damaged avalanche mitigation device.
Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt are charged with reckless endangerment. Restitution of $168,000 is sought for the destroyed avalanche mitigation device.
Adverse impact of video
Hannibal has argued that the charges could convince others to stop giving information to the CAIC. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, as attorney for the state avalanche center, has agreed. He argues against the plan to call avalanche center director Ethan Greene as an expert witness. He states it “could have an unintended adverse impact on the CAIC’s ability to gather important information.”
Weiser’s office has filed motions to quash subpoenas requiring Greene and forecaster Jason Konisberg to testify as expert witnesses.
Novel Avalanche Case
It is a novel case in several ways.
Backcountry travelers have never before faced criminal charges over an avalanche in Colorado. Summit County Court Judge Ed Casias recently rejected the pair’s argument that their rights were violated when the helmet video was provided to police as evidence of a crime.
Now Weiser has stepped in, asking Judge Casias to reject having state employees testify.
“There is genuine concern that if CAIC employees appear as an expert witness it could adversely impact their ability to gather information from persons involved in an avalanche,” the motion filed by Weiser’s office reads. “The more involved CAIC is, the more it looks like they are working with law enforcement, resulting in a chilling effect on CAIC’s mission.”
Too busy for avalanche testimony in court
Weiser also argued that the subpoenas are “unduly burdensome, unreasonable and oppressive.” Because it takes them away from avalanche investigations and forecasting.
James Moss is an attorney with over 30 years experience in recreation law. Moss thinks the loss of avalanche testimony by Greene and Konisberg could hinder the case. Moss thinks that without them the district attorney will have a hard time explaining the CAIC report. Or to explain why the avalanche mitigation device was placed in that particular location.
But more important, Moss says, is the threat to the CAIC mission. Which includes educating the public on avalanche risks.
“The motion states clearly that this is going to screw up avalanche research and reporting in Colorado forever,” said Moss. He has no role in the case but urges backcountry travelers to avoid talking with the CAIC. “You never report to CAIC from here on out, period,” Moss said.