Authorities suspect Aspen man pushed snowboarder off lift
January 20, 2016
ASPEN, Colo. — A skier who reportedly pushed a snowboarder off a chairlift Sunday at Aspen Highlands may be a local man, a Pitkin County sheriff's investigator said Tuesday.
"We have somebody that we're interested in for this," Deputy Jesse Steindler said. "We may not need to release a description (of him). That's how confident we are that we can identify this person."
Steindler said his confidence stems from the fact that surveillance is everywhere in today's world.
Jeff Hanle, spokesman for Aspen Skiing Co., said cameras at the bottom of the Exhibition lift at Aspen Highlands and other spots monitor the entry points to the mountain. Video taken Sunday from those cameras is being shared with law enforcement, he said.
Steindler met Tuesday with Seth Beckton, the snowboarder who said he was pushed off the Loge Peak chairlift at about 9:30 a.m. Sunday, to get a statement from him and "to begin the process of finding the person responsible," he said. Skico officials also attended the meeting.
In addition, deputies were interviewing several witnesses Tuesday who saw the incident "and may have seen who did it," Steindler said.
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Steindler declined to release the name of the person investigators think might have thrown Beckton off the lift, though he said the man is a local resident and not a tourist.
The man had not been questioned as of Tuesday afternoon. Asked if deputies were looking for the man or if he was previously known to law enforcement, Steindler said, "No comment."
Beckton, a 28-year-old photographer, told The Aspen Times on Monday he was riding up the lift with the skier and another man and barely spoke to the skier until near the end of the lift ride.
At that point, Beckton said they began talking about the 5 to 6 inches of powder on the ground and Beckton commented that it's easier to get face shots of powder on skis as opposed to a snowboard.
"To get tits-deep pow shots you just need to be on your edges," Beckton quoted himself as saying in a Facebook post.
After that comment, Beckton said the skier turned to him and said, "Are you making fun of me?"
Beckton said the comment surprised him because he wasn't trying to offend him. He said he thought the man might be joking, so he said, "Not really — but maybe."
"If you think that's funny," Beckton said the skier then told him, "do you think this is funny?"
The skier then grabbed Beckton and threw him off the chair. Beckton said he fell face first, 20 to 25 feet and, lucky for him, landed in a pile of snow and was not injured. The incident occurred 50 to 100 feet from the top of the lift just past the last lift tower, he said. A lift operator stopped the chairs after Beckton was pushed, but not before the skier was able to exit the chair, he said.
Beckton said he hiked out of the deep snow and waited on the ski run to confront the man but never saw him. He then decided that since he wasn't hurt, he didn't want the incident to ruin his powder day, so he snowboarded the rest of the day and didn't report it until about 3:45 p.m.
Beckton said Monday that he regretted not reporting the incident earlier.
"What if he does it someone else?" Beckton said.
The skier was wearing gray pants, a two-toned, burgundy and tan jacket, an old, silver Giro helmet and older, mirrored Smith goggles, Beckton said. He also thinks the man had facial hair.
Numerous people who posted comments on The Aspen Times' website Tuesday cast doubt on Beckton's story.
However, Hanle, who knows Beckton personally, said he had no reason to doubt his story. Steindler also said there's no reason to believe he's not telling the truth. Two people who posted also said they saw the deep impression Beckton made in the snow below the lift.
It's unclear exactly what crime the skier could be charged with. Prosecutor Andrea Bryan said assault might apply, though the degrees of assault depend on how seriously the victim was injured. A charge also could depend on the skier's intent, she said.
Whatever the case, certainly a crime was committed, Steindler said.
"You can't push someone off a chairlift and expect it not to be a crime," he said.
Jason Auslander is a reporter for The Aspen Times, a sister newspaper of the Sierra Sun & North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.
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