Charges possible in B.C. avalanche deaths

RCMP in B.C. say they have stopped searching at the site of a deadly avalanche and are now focusing on whether charges should be laid.
A damaged snowmobile is recovered from the avalanche site. ((Canadian Press))

RCMP in B.C. say they have stopped searching at the site of a deadly avalanche and are focusing on whether charges should be laid.

Two men were killed and 31 others injured on the weekend when the massive slide hit 200 snowmobilers and spectators at the Big Iron Shootout competition in remote backcountry.

The crowd had gathered in an area known as Turbo Hill, despite repeated warnings from avalanche experts that there was a dangerously high risk of slides across the region.

Ten RCMP investigators arrived in Revelstoke on Monday afternoon to begin what is expected to be a lengthy probe into the two deaths.

Police said they want to talk to organizers of the event, particularly a Calgarian named Dave Clark, who goes by the nickname Ozone Dave. He reportedly left Revelstoke on Sunday morning and hasn't been answering his phone since.

Many spectators said they paid up to $25 each to use trails maintained by a Revelstoke snowmobile group to access the area.

"If evidence to support a charge under the Criminal Code is obtained, a report will be forwarded to Crown counsel recommending criminal charges," Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said Tuesday.

"Given the number of people that attended this event, and the uniqueness of the circumstances, it will be a lengthy and complex investigation."

Moskaluk earlier expressed concern that at least one child was injured attending the event.

Lawsuits possible

The incident has spurred calls for greater regulation of backcountry access, but some people have argued that those heading into remote areas should take appropriate precautions themselves.

A Calgary personal injury lawyer says that while the spectators themselves may bear some responsibility for being in the avalanche-prone area, several people and organizations could be sued.

Greg Rodin told CBC News that people injured in the slide or relatives of those killed could make claims against snowmobilers who may have triggered the avalanche while racing up the slope.

"You bear a responsibility to be sure your conduct does not create an unreasonable, foreseeable risk to your neighbour," Rodin said. "If you know, by going and disturbing the snowpack, that an avalanche may occur, then you bear some degree of liability as well."

Organizers of the competition, and even the B.C. government, which failed to stop the unsanctioned event, could also be liable, he said.

"The facts aren't all out, but it seems to me, if there is an organization that put on that event, and if that organization had noticed that the conditions were dangerous, and if that organization failed to tell people — just assuming that they knew — then there is a clear case in my opinion, that an argument could be made that they would be liable, because they owe a duty to people they essentially enticed to attend the event, to warn of any risks that they know of, to their health and safety."