Skier Sentenced to 3 Months in Jail

ByABC News

Feb. 1, 2001 -- The first person in the United States convicted of homicide caused by a ski collision was sentenced to 90 days in the Eagle County jail.

A repentant Nathan Hall, 21, begged the judge — as well as the family of the deceased — for leniency and forgiveness.

Hall, at the time a former ski-chair operator at Vail Mountain resort, crashed into Alan Cobb, 33, on the slopes in Vail, Colo., April 20, 1997. Hall admitted to skiing too fast, but called the death an accident.

He is currently free pending an appeal. His lawyer maintains that jurors should have been given the option of finding Hall guilty of a misdemeanor.

'I Know I'm Guilty'

"I know I'm guilty," he said, choking back tears as his parents looked on. "I stand before you guys knowing I've taken a human life, a life obviously very special and valued by a lot of people."

A very solemn Judge David Lass strongly suggested that Hall seek help in a drug and alcohol program. After Hall's arrest, beer and a small quantity of marijuana was found in his backpack.

Hall, who was also sentenced to 240 hours of community service, said he hoped to educate others about the dangers of skiing too fast.

"Now that I've had a chance to explain my feelings and express my apologies, I feel I can finally start a new beginning with my life," he said.

A jury made up entirely of local skiers and snowboarders found Hall guilty of negligent homicide Nov. 17 after refusing to convict him on the more severe reckless manslaughter charge. He could have faced up to six years in prison.

Before the sentence was handed down, his mother begged for the judge to understand that her son was immature and should not go to the penitentiary.

A Foot of Blood in the Colorado Snow

Hall, who had just gotten off work, was skiing at more than 25 mph when he entered a ski trail for intermediate skiers, where he would ultimately collide with the victim. Cobb's injuries were so severe they were consistent with those seen in an automobile accident, an Eagle County coroner testified.

Christi Neville, who was engaged to Cobb, said at the time of the incident that her fiance's blood was a foot deep in the snow. She said she tried to revive him after the collision, but he kept spitting up blood.

Neville and Cobb's mother, Susan Cracknoll, were disappointed by the appeal.

"I was absolutely appalled and shocked at their statement to file an appeal," said Neville. "The thought of this going on for another two years for us was a real blow."

But she said she started to feel relieved as the proceedings came to an end.

"It meant a great deal to me — and I think I can speak for all of Allan's family — to hear Nathan and his family speak to us," she said.

Industry Takes Notice

Members of the ski industry have been keeping a close eye on the outcome of this case and say such high-profile cases have raised awareness among skiers.

"All of these cases are tragic but they have created higher degree of sensibility and awareness, which gives us a chance to put our message out," said Mark Dorsey, a spokesman for the National Ski Patrol.

Dorsey alluded to other high-profile accidents involving Congressman Sonny Bono and Michael Kennedy, who died when he hit a tree while skiing on Aspen Mountain in 1998.

Dorsey said people are increasingly aware of the risks in skiing and some have begun to take precautions.

"More people are wearing helmets out there," Dorsey said. "People are recognizing the risks as well as the benefits of the slopes."

Ski resorts have also begun to place safety patrols throughout slopes.

The ski industry in Colorado is a multi-million dollar per year industry attracting skiers from around the world. Privately, some ski industry sources tell ABCNEWS they are pleased Nathan Hall received 90 days in the Eagle County Colorado jail.

They say this is a message: reckless skiing will not be tolerated on the slopes of the Rockies.

ABCNEWS' Steve Walsh and's Maria F. Durand contributed to this report.

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