Family files lawsuit against city of Casper for Hogadon ski death

2013-01-01T23:45:00Z Family files lawsuit against city of Casper for Hogadon ski deathBy KELLY BYER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 01, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Parents of a 5-year-old girl killed in a Hogadon Ski Area accident in 2010 have filed a lawsuit against the ski patrol and city of Casper for wrongful death, negligence and personal injuries.

The civil lawsuit filed in Natrona County District Court says the Casper Mountain Ski Patrol and city failed to protect the girl from an intoxicated person snowboarding “recklessly” at “excessive speeds.”

The Johnson family seeks payment for medical expenses and other damages, with amounts to be determined at trial, according to the complaint.

The accident happened Christmas eve of 2010, when 23-year-old Craig Shirley was snowboarding on the Dreadnaught run and collided with Kelli Johnson and her daughter, Elise. Elise Johnson and Shirley were killed. Kelli Johnson suffered serious injuries.

Witness statements cited in the complaint mention the Dreadnaught run was slick by the afternoon of Dec. 24, when mother and daughter were skiing. The black-diamond Dreadnaught run requires high skill levels and had just opened for the season at the city-owned ski area.

Kelli and Elise Johnson made it partway down Dreadnaught when Elise’s skis came off. The two were the only skiers on the run at the time, and they came to a stop about the same time Shirley began the run.

He was estimated to have traveled at speeds of 40 to 50 mph and appeared intoxicated earlier in the day. A toxicology report later showed Shirley had a small amount of cannabinoids in his system, but an investigation found he committed no crime at the time of the accident.

Shirley had been cited for snowboarding recklessly, sometimes at high speeds, in the past and was known for his dangerous behavior, according to the complaint. Despite this, Hogadon Ski Area employees allowed Shirley on the slopes. Nearby ski patrol members watching Shirley’s speedy descent did not instruct him to stop or warn the Johnsons.

For these reasons, the lawsuit claims the ski patrol and city bear responsibility for Elise Johnson’s death.

Reed Bar, the city’s risk manager, said he received a copy of the lawsuit but could not comment at such an early stage. The Risk Management Office works with its insurance company and attorneys to handle claims against the city.

The Spence Law Firm attorneys representing the Johnson family did not respond to multiple phone messages for comment Monday.

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