Drunken snowboarder gets sentenced
Post Independent Staff
Michael Wolff, the drunken snowboarder who plowed into three young skiers at Sunlight Mountain Resort March 15, was sentenced Thursday to an alcohol treatment program and three years of probation.
The three youngsters, students in a ski class, were 5-7 years old. One suffered a broken leg and others were bruised when Wolff slammed into them while they were gathered on a beginner’s run with their instructor. A fourth child in the class was not hit.
Wolff, 20, of Killeen, Texas, pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse and three counts of reckless endangerment on June 26.
He has remained in Garfield County jail since his arrest the day of the accident, and will stay there until a bed opens up at the Colorado West Regional Mental Health Transitions program in Glenwood Springs.
“I think Mr. Wolff has learned a lesson. I think he has the opportunity to reform his alcoholic behavior, and become a productive citizen,” said visiting Judge Philip Roan of Adams County, who presided at the sentencing in 9th District Court.
Wolff apologized for his drunken behavior several times during his address to the court.
Wolff told the court he was “negligent and out of control,” but didn’t set out to hurt anyone.
He said he is an alcoholic and equated drinking to having a good time.
“I’ve been drinking a while,” Wolff testified Thursday. “I had a fiancee, but it tore us apart.”
On the verge of tears at the end of his remarks, he said, “I’m not a monster. I lost control of myself. I’m sorry. I hope they can accept my apology.”
Jeff Bader of Carbondale, the father of 6-year-old victim Sophia Page, was the only parent to attend the sentencing.
Bader said March 15 started with his daughter telling him skiing was her favorite thing to do. On their way to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment for bruises, Sophia told her father, “I wish you never took me skiing today.”
Judge Roan gave Wolff credit for the 152 days he has served, and suspended the remaining 88 days in Wolff’s plea agreement, if he successfully completes Colorado West’s three- to six-month alcohol treatment program.
Roan ordered Wolff to pay $9,304 in restitution, and to write letters of apology to the victims and their parents.
Wolff faced up to 18 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines.
Witnesses told Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputies Wolff was “visibly drunk,” and his long-sleeved T-shirt was completely soaked, when he boarded the Tercero chairlift just before the accident.
Deputy District Attorney Trisha Lacey testified that Wolff drank almost a fifth of alcohol before crashing into the children.
Seconds after the accident, the children were scattered on the snow, “and crying was all I could hear,” ski instructor Karen Susztar told sheriff’s deputies.
“He was flying down the hill, not paying any attention to where he was going,” Lacey told the court.
Witnesses said Wolff was uncooperative, confused, incoherent and not remorseful after the accident. “He was arguing with everyone around him,” Lacey told the court.
Susztar told Judge Roan she was torn between letting the accident pass as a “dumb mistake,” but actions such as Wolff’s cannot be tolerated.
“We’re fortunate the injuries weren’t more severe,” Susztar said.
Lacey said the little girl who suffered a broken leg spent eight weeks in a cast after the accident, and missed a dance recital for which she’d been practicing.
She said the children are now afraid to go skiing.
Wolff said he hopes the children will “get the strength” to go skiing again. He said he can “only imagine” what would have happened if he had a daughter who’d been injured the way his victims had. “I’d be in jail, too. I’d hurt that person,” he said. After the proceedings, Bader said he thought the sentencing was fair, and he didn’t think Wolff should serve more time in jail.
“I’m glad he’ll get some treatment. … Hopefully, I can get my little girl on skis again,” Bader said.
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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