Death on the Alps Fuels Safety Debate

German politician convicted of manslaughter by negligence after deadly ski crash

ByABC News
January 12, 2009, 9:48 AM

BERLIN, Jan. 12, 2009 — -- German politician Dieter Althaus, who strayed onto the wrong sky slope and fatally injured a fellow skier during a collision, was convicted today of manslaughter by negligence.

A court in the Austrian town of Irdning sentenced Althaus, a state governor and key ally to Chancellor Angela Merkel, to a fine of $41,500.

In addition, the court ordered him to pay a fine of $6,250 to compensate the husband of Beata Christandl, the mother of four, who was killed in the accident.

Althaus did not attend the trial, as he is still at a therapy center in southern Germany recovering from severe head injuries he sustained in the New Year's Day accident at the Riesner Alm ski area in Austria's Styria region.

The trial came as a surprise. It had not been announced in advance, and Austrian prosecutors had disclosed only Monday that they had filed charges against Althaus.

Prosecutors said the politician had entered onto a slope against the direction of traffic shortly before crashing head on into the other skier, who died of severe head injuries.

Prosecutors had received a letter from Althaus in which he stated that he had no recollection of the incident as such but had assumed responsibility for the accident as it was reconstructed.

Court spokeswoman Sabine Anzenberger told ABC News in a telephone conversation,"Mr. Althaus has accepted the verdict."

The deadly accident had sparked a nationwide debate over ways to improve safety on the slopes, and some politicians have suggested enacting legislation requiring skiers and snowboarders to wear protective head gear.

Althaus, an experienced skier, had been wearing a helmet but the victim was not.

After the accident, Althaus, 50, was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Schwarzach with serious head injuries, including minor bleeding in the brain and skull fractures.

Christandl, 41, died en route to the hospital.

Althaus was reportedly skiing against the flow of skiers when he rounded a corner and crashed head on with Christandl.

The event has sparked scandal in Germany, provoked by the charges of manslaughter and questions of whether Althaus was skiing responsibly.