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Snowboarders To Serve Community Service After Legal Battle Over 2020 Avalanche

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Two snowboarders accepted a plea deal for a March 2020 avalanche which buried the service road at the Eisenhower Tunnel. They originally faced charges and restitution. The only thing they owe now is community service.

Evan Hannibal and Tyler DeWitt pled guilty to individual misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment. While this will require community service, they will no longer have to pay the restitution they initially faced - $168,000.

(credit: CBS)

The avalanche they triggered not only damaged the mechanism in place which the Colorado Department of Transportation uses to mitigate avalanches above Interstate 70, but set a debris field of more than 400 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

According to a news release from the District Attorney's Office issued Tuesday,

"Dewitt called 9-1-1 to report it and both men met with law enforcement afterwards to assist in determining if anyone was trapped in the avalanche. The Loop Road and I-70 were open at the time the avalanche occurred, and search and rescue had to be deployed to aid in potential rescue efforts. It was ultimately determined that no one was caught in the avalanche, but snow and debris were estimated at 20 feet deep in some areas, and a CO Dept. of Transportation Obellx avalanche control system was destroyed. Both men were issued summonses for Reckless Endangerment, by the Summit County Sheriff's Office. As part of the plea agreement, the District Attorney's Office will not seek restitution, but will ask the Court to order both Defendants to perform community service in addition to pleading guilty."

The attorney for the two, Jason Flores-Williams, believed the restitution was "deeply uncool" and told CBS4 he believed it was worse than unconstitutional. He knew DeWitt and Hannibal were knowledgeable when it came to backcountry safety, but could never afford the restitution.

As a result, he took the case pro-bono.

"When district attorneys and prosecutors come at citizens like this, and you know, they're seeking some obscene amount of money and things that are going to do damage to their lives, what they're usually trying to do is send a message," said Flores-Williams.

The pair were fortunate no one was in the path of the avalanche and admitted they didn't realize the avalanche would be so catastrophic.

avalanche map
(credit: CBS)

"Hindsight is always twenty-twenty," DeWitt told CBS4 in October. "Looking back now that this has happened tells me that we need to go back to the drawing board and be a little more diligent next time because miscalculations can be lethal in the backcountry."

They also never anticipated the video they submitted to the CAIC would be used against them in court.

(credit: Summit County)

"What I'm hoping along with this agreement is that maybe some protocols can be reached so that law enforcement can't be misusing CAIC when people are voluntarily giving over their videos and things like that, in the name of everybody working together improve avalanche safety awareness and education," said Flores-Williams.

CAIC issued a statement on Tuesday:

"CAIC's goal throughout this criminal justice proceeding was to ensure our ability to educate, interact with, and support the public regarding avalanche safety. We will continue to help people understand and avoid avalanches. We hope that everyone in Colorado has the opportunity to enjoy backcountry recreation on public lands and considers how their actions could affect other people before they go into avalanche terrain."

CAIC says its primary focus is making sure people understand the risks so they can recreate safely.

In March, Ethan Greene, Director of the CAIC spoke directly to CBS4 about the case.

"We're not doing things to try and put other people in harm's way and that has much less to do with this case than just a general value that we share."

Greene said the whole purpose of the CIAC is to work with communities to spread awareness and a big part of that has been the long history of community members sharing observations.

Flores-Williams said his clients hope to work with the CAIC as part of their community service.

Their next court date is June 7 at 9 a.m. when they will both enter a guilty plea and be sentenced at that time.


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