Skiing Collision Brings Criminal Charge

Janice L. Habuda
The Buffalo News
March 26, 2009

Collisions between people on ski slopes are relatively rare. Even more rare is the situation in which a Lancaster man has found himself: facing a criminal charge after a collision with a Kissing Bridge ski instructor, who suffered serious injuries.

Dominic Galasso, 25, was charged by state police with a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment, stemming from a March 4 collision at Kissing Bridge with Carl Hensler, 64, of Fort Erie, Ont.

The head of security at Kissing Bridge told state police that Galasso was skiing in a “full tuck” position when he hit Hensler on Mistletoe, an intermediate slope, late that afternoon.

Hensler’s injuries included a broken arm, leg and nose. He remains hospitalized in a rehabilitation unit at Erie County Medical Center, where he has had two surgeries.

Galasso suffered a minor facial injury, according to state police.

What will unfold in Concord Town Court likely will set a precedent in New York State.

“To our knowledge, it is the first time,” said Michael Drmacich of the Erie County district attorney’s office, with whom state police consulted before charging Galasso.

The reckless endangerment charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

“We are still considering additional charges,” Drmacich added.

Given the risks associated with mountain sports, criminal prosecution stemming from slopeside collisions is a relatively new phenomenon. The first criminal conviction in a skier’s death occurred just nine years ago.

In 1997, a collision between an employee of Vail Ski Resort in Colorado and a visiting skier resulted in the visitor’s death. Three years later, the employee was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Jim Chalat, a Denver-based lawyer whose firm handles lawsuits related to skiing accidents, said he filed a “friend of the court” brief in favor of the prosecution in that case.

“I argued to the court . . . that if we’re going to allow skiers to sue for negligence of other skiers, then when the reckless skier is acting recklessly . . . criminal charges could be brought,” Chalat said.

Prior prosecutions in Colorado related to collision-related skier deaths were resolved through plea bargains, Chalat said.

The 2000 conviction by an Eagle County District Court jury “is now a precedent that gives prosecutors a basis upon which they may make a prosecution for recklessness,” Chalat said.

Kissing Bridge uses its ski school to educate guests about slope etiquette and protocol, said Mark Halter, president. Further, New York State’s Skiing in Safety Code, enacted in 1989, is posted where tickets are purchased and printed on the tickets themselves.

“We try to identify reckless behavior,” Halter said. “We talk to people from time to time. We will warn them, remove [lift] tickets. We have confiscated season passes.”

People who spend a lot of time on the slopes inevitably find themselves in unsafe situations, said Patrick Stahl, vice chairman of Schussmeisters Ski Club at the University at Buffalo.

“I have close calls probably a couple of times a season,” said Stahl, who has been skiing and snowboarding for approximately 18 years. Stahl said he broke his wrist last season after colliding with a friend.

At the same time, safety rules and regulations, as well constant patrolling by ski and safety patrols make a difference, he said.

“I think that the mountains do the best job that they can. Just by going skiing, there’s an inherent risk [right] off the bat,” Stahl said.

Reached Wednesday at ECMC, Hensler declined to comment.