Man `visibly drunk’ before ski accident skiers
Post Independent Staff
The snowboarder accused of slamming into a group of beginner ski school children at Sunlight Mountain Resort on Saturday was “visibly drunk and slurring his words” as he rode a chairlift, a witness said. Also, the snowboarder allegedly threw an empty Dr. Pepper bottle that may have contained “spiked” soda over his shoulder while still riding the lift, the witness said.
Todd Reece of Glenwood Springs said he first noticed Michael Wolff, 20, of Killeen, Texas, because the man was loud and slurring his words, and because Wolff’s long-sleeved white T-shirt was completely soaked.
Reece said Wolff, who rode Sunlight’s Tercero lift in the chair directly in front of him, offered to share the concoction – which Wolff told Reece contained Southern Comfort – with Reece while they were riding up. Reece declined.
“I was worried he was going to fall off the lift,” Reece said. “He finished the bottle, then threw it over his shoulder.”
Reece said he almost confronted Wolff at the top of the chairlift, but because of Wolff’s apparently agitated state, Reece was concerned it would turn into an ugly scene. Reece said he also considered informing the Ski Patrol about what he saw, but did not.
A short while later, as Reece headed up Segundo Lift at around 2:30 p.m., he was shocked to see the aftermath of Wolff’s alleged drunkenness – a mass of children and skis, with Wolff in his soaked white T-shirt right in the middle.
Three children were hurt in the crash. One suffered a broken leg, one suffered a bruise on her arm, and the third had minor injuries. The names and ages of the children were not released Monday.
Wolff was advised in Garfield County Court on Monday of the six charges pending against him. Garfield County Judge Paul Metzger set Wolff’s bond at $15,000.
The charges include felony child abuse, misdemeanor child abuse, reckless endangerment, underage drinking, skiing under the influence and ski collision with injuries. If convicted on all counts, Wolff could face five to 18 years in prison and more than $750,000 in fines for his alleged part in the crash.
Also at the hearing, Metzger accepted a request by the 9th District Attorney’s office placing a restraining order on Wolff. The order bars him from any contact with the two teenagers with whom he traveled to Colorado from Texas, and bars him from contacting any of the victims or their families.
Wolff asked the judge if the restraining order would prevent him from writing letters of apology to his victims. Metzger said it would, but that he might be able to do that sometime in the future.
The restraining order is mostly aimed at protecting the Texas boys, 17 and 15, who gave witness statements to Garfield County sheriff’s deputies about the crash, reportedly prompting Wolff to threaten them with a beating, according to an arrest affidavit written by sheriff’s deputy Donivan Livingston.
Wolff, who stands 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighs 175 pounds and sports a tattoo on his upper right arm, stood stoically in court Monday morning as Metzger read the list of charges.
According to the arrest affidavit, Livingston smelled an odor of alcohol on Wolff’s breath, Wolff’s eyes were watery and bloodshot and he “spoke with a thick tongue.”
Wolff told Livingston he had come up from Texas to learn how to snowboard. He said he lost control and “the children got in his way as he was coming down the run,” the affidavit said.
Then Wolff “began swearing and becoming more irate as I attempted to talk with him,” Livingston wrote.
Livingston said the witnesses, including the two teenage boys who traveled with Wolff, said that throughout the day, Wolff had been drinking alcohol he brought with him.
The teenage boys “also advised me that Mr. Wolff showed no remorse for running into the children,” Livingston’s affidavit said.
Sunlight Mountain Resort spokeswoman Turi Nevin said Wolff was not served any alcohol at the resort’s Last Turn Lounge.
Wolff is set to next appear in court at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26, for formal filing of charges.
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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