Paragliding accident kills man in Aspen
Sam Esmiol, the former Aspen Middle School teacher who spoke out against standardized tests, was killed in a paragliding accident Wednesday morning east of Aspen.Esmiol, 39, fell to his death after he spiraled out of control above the North Star Nature Preserve on his second jump of the day.Colleagues remembered the Spanish-language teacher as a gentle spirit and “a good guy” who had clear, concise opinions about his eclectic beliefs. Diana Sirko, Aspen School District superintendent, said Esmiol was a wonderful teacher. He worked at the school last year and was not planning on coming back after his one year here.”He had lived in South America for many, many years, so his knowledge of the Spanish language and culture was a real asset to the school,” Sirko said. “Certainly Sam was well-liked by the kids. This will be very shocking for many kids.”David MacLean, a seventh-grade language arts instructor, said he deeply respected Esmiol.”He was definitely concerned about doing the right thing, regardless of any kind of controversy. His stand on the CSAP thing comes to mind,” MacLean said. “He had a lot of integrity.”Esmiol was partially suspended in March after he refused to issue tests mandated under the Colorado Student Assessment Program. The CSAPs “discriminate against Latino students and treat teachers unfairly,” he told The Aspen Times.Esmiol also took issue with how the tests are translated.”Oral translation is subjective,” he said. “Students’ test scores are influenced by the quality of the translation. These tests do not accurately represent their abilities.”Tim Somerville, a seventh-grade science and math teacher at the middle school, led an orientation for new teachers last fall. He realized immediately that Esmiol was experienced.”He was a really interesting fellow. He had done a number of different things,” Somerville said. “I really liked him.”Esmiol, who MacLean said was a ranch hand before he entered the education field, was possibly going to join Outward Bound, an organization that offers adventure programs, or study yoga.Esmiol’s brother, Caleb, said their family has “been involved in extreme lifestyles for our entire lives.””Sam was a thoughtful, caring and sensitive brother,” said Caleb, who has been in the skydiving industry for 25 years.Esmiol is also survived by his wife of one year and his father, who lives in Glenwood Springs.A fellow paraglider said Esmiol was using a fairly new type of paraglider. Pitkin County sheriff’s investigator Joe DiSalvo said Esmiol was likely flying alone and had already made one jump.Witnesses said he was locked into a wild spiral for at least 30 seconds and may not have been conscious before he hit the ground. He likely died on impact, deputies said.A man who identified himself only as Bob said he and a companion, an emergency medical technician, were jogging by North Star when they saw Esmiol in the air. They sprinted to the crash site and were the first to attend to him.”At first we thought he was an acrobat and then he never pulled out,” he said.Amy King of Houston, walking near the popular preserve with her family, also witnessed the accident, which happened around 9:30 a.m.”Usually they’re just floating. But (Esmiol) was spiraling a lot. He just kept spiraling downward fast,” King said.Another witness who did not give her name said he hit the ground on the south side of the Roaring Fork River. The site is about 300 yards from Highway 82.Paragliders launching off the east side of Aspen Mountain use the nature preserve as a landing site. Paragliders launching to the west often use the Marolt Open Space. A paraglider died at that site in July 2005 after he spiraled out of control.Sirko said district officials may schedule a time where students can come together for counseling.
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UPDATE: Both westbound lanes and one eastbound lane of Interstate 70, according to a 12:20 a.m. update from Garfield County.