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Snowboarder going to jail
By Noah Brenner
Date: December 22, 2006
A snowboarder who killed skier Heather Donahue in a 2005 accident at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will spend the holidays in the Teton County Jail.
Greg Doda, 18, of Crownsville, Md., had pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, and received a one-year sentence Wednesday with six months suspended and the remaining six months stayed.
Teton County Circuit Judge Timothy Day told Doda the purpose of locking him up for the holidays was “to impart upon you in some degree that emptiness that Heather Donahue's family feels every day.”
Doda could have received as much as one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.
During the hearing, Doda addressed Donahue's family for the first time.
“There is not a morning I wake up that I don’t think about your daughter,” he said. “Sometimes I wake up to tears and sometimes I am going down the highway to work and I burst out into tears,” he said. “It's just waves of sorrow. It's going to be something I always have with me.”
Donahue's family and that of her husband, however, argued for the maximum sentence.
“You, Greg Doda, took my daughter's lifelong dream of practicing veterinary medicine,” Donahue's father, Michael, said. “Mr. Doda, I can only hope you don't get a slap on the hand for what you did.”
Donahue's sister-in-law, Lisa Keith, has a teenage son who also snowboards, and she told the court if her son were sitting in the defendant’s chair, she would still be asking for the maximum sentence.
“If it would prevent even one family from experiencing the unimaginable anguish experienced by our family, then I believe the court will have served its purpose,” she said.
Prosecuting attorney Steve Weichman said he agreed with the family and made a sentencing recommendation of “significant” jail time.
According to eyewitness reports and analysis at the crash scene, Doda straightlined the majority of Laramie Bowl before crashing into Donahue, 29, who was stopped in the middle of the run waiting for her husband, Chris Keith. A friend of Doda’s who was videotaping him recorded the incident.
According to crash analysis, there was a 95 percent chance Doda was traveling 47 mph at the time of impact.
The crash, in February in the lower area of Laramie Bowl, broke Doda’s snowboard into two pieces.
“The impact knocked Donahue out of her gloves, skis, poles, hat, goggles, neck warmer and catapulted her about 25 feet down the hill,” Teton County sheriff’s Investigator Mike Carlson wrote, based on an interview with Donahue's husband, who witnessed the crash.
Weichman filed the misdemeanor charge almost a year after the crash, based on Carlson’s probe. The investigation involved dozens of interviews, witness statements, a crash analysis and review of video.
In an interview with sheriff's investigators at Teton Village Clinic after the crash, Doda said he rode his snowboard at a fast speed but “was not out of control” while coming down Laramie Bowl, according to court documents.
Doda was 16 years old at the time of the incident, and it was the teen's age that kept Weichman from seeking a felony manslaughter charge and a possible 20-year sentence, Weichman told the court. Weichman said he supported his decision to try Doda as an adult.
“The business of prosecuting children is a serious thing and should be reserved for compelling cases,” Weichman said. “The state saw this as a compelling case and brings the charge without apologies.”
Doda's family testified at the hearing, arguing that putting him in jail would only ruin two lives and would do little to bring closure to Donahue's loved ones.
“I understand her family members probably want him in jail,” said Doda's mother, Sharon, “but on Heather's behalf, after reading about the kind of person she was, I don’t know that she would want that.”
Instead, Sharon Doda suggested community service involving sports safety or caring for animals.
“In my opinion, that would be better because it would be giving back to the community,” she said.
Before sentencing him, Day told Doda he did not see the incident as an accident.
“This nightmare was no mistake,” he said. “It's absolutely clear you were going way too fast, period.”
Day also criticized the mountain resort and ski resorts nationwide for doing little to deter dangerous behavior and even less to investigate accidents.
In addition to the jail time, Day imposed one year of probation; 240 hours of community service, 80 of which must be done at a facility caring for animals; and about $4,000 in fines and victim’s compensation, $2,000 of which must go to Donahue’s favorite charity at Tuft's University, where she went to veterinary school. He also must write an article about the incident and snowboarding safety for a national magazine.
Members of Donahue's family declined to comment after the hearing.