Reno Gazette-Journal from Reno, Nevada on December 9, 1984 · Page 23
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Reno Gazette-Journal from Reno, Nevada · Page 23

Reno, Nevada
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 9, 1984
Page 23
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Avalanche From page 1A condominium when there was a danger of such a severe avalanche? Why had an avalanche been allowed to form when the resort and the U.S. Forest Service had the technology needed to control them'' Whv were the Nelsons allowed to walk into the path of an avalanche? The central question, of course, is: Who is to Diame ; is u tne resort for allowing people on its property during an avalanche danger? Is it the Forest Service which owns a lot of Alpine Meadows' slopes? Is it the food service, which lured a few people out of their houses by opening their restaurant? Or is it Placer County for allowing a ski resort in the area in the first place? Those questions are at the center of three sprawling lawsuits that are work ing tneir way inrougn various county and state courts in California. The lawsuits filed on behalf of the families of those killed in the avalanches, could go a long way toward defining government's responsibility for protecting people in areas where avalanches are a known threat. The Alpine Meadows tragedy seems to have spawned widespread interest in laws that regulate development and safety procedures in known avalanche zones. Since the accident, Placer and Nevada counties have both stiffened controls in dangerous mountain areas, although planners there perhaps with an eye on the costly lawsuits deny the new regulations are meant to correct mistakes made in those dangerous days of late March and early , April when avalanches crippled the cen- tral Sierra. Washoe County is also looking inti an nrHinarmn tfnt vnllirtrr 1 . . 1 i lliw H" v uii.uuvi, Willi viimg UCVClUpilICIIl in avalanche zones as are many ski areas anu mountain communities throughout Colorado and Idaho. THE THREE Alpine Meadows lawsuits were filed by the families of four people killed in the avalanches Nelsnn and his daughter, Laurie; David Hahn, a businessman from Los Altos Hills, Calif., who uas rrnssinf thp Iruicrp nnrlrina W urKan the slide struck; and Frank Yeatman, the boyfriend of survivor Anna Conrad, who was in the Summit Terminal building with ' Conrad when another avalanche struck. rPVivvAA vi r r rrt- lift- n.iL imcc cmyiuycco mi upei cUUI Dclll Mnrrnu maintpnnnpo cnnoruicnr ToIa smun, ana mountain manager bernie Kingery were all covered under California's workman's compensation law, ana tneir relatives couian t tile lawsuits over their deaths. Survivor Conrad settlor! hpr lawsuit in nenomhor lact im?r - - - .u.ium.i. ' VVV(.111WV1 J H -J L. ( 1,111 for an undisclosed amount of money. Each of the lawsuits, which may come to trial earlv next vear. is sDread out over tnree ninerent courts ann namp a variptv of defendants Alpine Meadows Ski Corp. and Alpine Meadows of Tahoe Inc., i U nf t U 1 . .J n i uic uwuns ui me icauii, uguen r oou Service, the operators of the lodge restau- rant Qmithorn TQifi T anrl fr tjYin, x uui, uvutuvi 11 x uviia uauu vu. , w 1111,11 owns some of Alpine Meadows' ski runs; the U.S. Forest Service, which gave the resort a SDecial use Dermit to oDerate runs on federal land; and Placer County, which maintained the road to Alpine and issued permits for the resort develop-' ments struck by the avalanche. mi i i 1 1 . t- i -t i . made its first mistake many years before "the avalanches when it built a road in the area and "allowed dangerous conditions" lhaf pnnlH nnt hp rpaHilv annarpnt fn vie- - r , . itors." The county allowed ski lift development in a known avalanche area, the suits say, and it erred when it plowed the Alpine Meadows road the day of the slide UlVlUIIg ycUjyiC LU CUICI . THE SUITS ALSO allege the county failed to warn residents of the area that there was a severe avalanche danger. ; One lawsuit also claims the county knew of building code violations in the Summit Terminal chair lift building and had ; "failed to monitor" alterations to it that made the building unsafe during avalanches. Attorneys in the case have declined to comment. Alpine Meadows' San Fran-: Cisco attorneys indicated it was their pol- Bunker l From page 1A ) front run by Allen Glick. He was first ' hired by Sachs. According to affidavits, Midwestern Mafiosi grew disenchanted with Rosenthal, and in 1982 he survived a mob contract on his life when his Cadillac blew ; up in a restaurant parking lot. Rosenthal : lost his gaming license because of allegations of organized crime ties. Sources familiar with the Bunker case said it was unlikely Bunker's friendship ' with Tobman or his associations with ' Sachs and Rosenthal will be discussed when the board meets Wednesday in Car- : son City. , ; However, the Gazette-Journal has ; learned that while the official investigation of Bunker is complete, there remains , an informal investigation in some corners - of Gaming Control into whether Bunker's relationship with Sachs and Tobman led T him to dismiss information that could have been used against the pair when they were licensed by the state in 1979. Control Board member Bart Jacka, who assumes the chairmanship in January, insisted the Bunker background cnecK ib complete, "or it (the application) wouldn't be there." Bunker met recently with Control I Board Chairman James Avance in Las ' Vegas to discuss the meeting. It will be Avance s last session with the board Bryan has already named Jacka as the new chairman. I WHILE BUNKER enjoyed the unflag-' ging support of the man who appointed mm, tormer Gov. Kooert l,isi, ihs puyu-, larity outside the governor's office was " much more measured. Bryan, upon learning Bunker improperly sent a secretary to : Pick up a political campaign check from a casino executive, once called for a special prosecutor to investigate Bunker, r although it was never done. A former control Board auditor also accu&eu uw.- ker of burying a report that could have . hurt Sachs' and Tobman's chances to buy : the Stardust. Among the episodes that put Bunker in ' hot water while on the state's casino enforcement agency: I Galena Creek Reno I Ba8,n I suae ( -Jl---rJ-- J A I Mountain V t Mt. Rose XyS (s ' IskliresortJ Tl Jm) - 3 A Areas of "fTL ( J yLf Crystal Bay T i 0rHi I Mt-Roe we8t of verai I wr i.ii..,. nn-n Kings' Portions of Tahoe Donner subdivision Highway 89 from Tahoe City y Donner Lake (X1 "' Experts concerned by building Sierra snowpack By JIM SLOAN Heavy October rains and a large, early-season snowpack have some Sierra avalanche control experts wor lied that this will be a banner year for 'snow slides. "There is some concern and it has to do 'with the large snowpack," said Squaw Valley. General Manager Jimmy Mott, an avalanche expert. "The snow is sitting on a pretty healthy ice layer, and if we get a large amount of snow added' to that, it could trigger some slides particularly in the back country." Although the U.S. Forest Service hasn't issued an avalanche warning for the central Sierra, avalanche control specialists say they'll keep a careful watch on slide areas until the snow's "profile" changes and the lower ice layer becomes weaker. The amount of accumulated snow more than 70 inches on Donner Pass is nearly three times higher than the average for this time of year. The California Department of Trans portation recently asked El Dorado County to close off a section of federal land above Highway 50 because officials were worried that skiers and icy not to talk about a case before it's settled, and several calls to Placer County s legal counsel were not returned. At the time of the accident, county and ' resort officials said they knew of nothing they could have done to save those seven lives. Attempts had beenmade throughout the day to dislodge the avalanche-prone areas with explosives, but in the blinding snow workers couldn't tell if they had accomplished anything. Even though 300 people weren't evacuated from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows until after the avalanches struck, Placer County officials denied at the time that their disaster operation was flawed or disorganized. But it's clear the Alpine Meadows tragedy prompted some area lawmakers to change the way they govern their mountainous regions. No one will admit it, of course, because that would be to admit they were unprepared for what happened that day in March. Earlier this year, Nevada County adopted one of the region's strictest avalanche ordinances. The county has identified its most hazardous areas including portions of the Tahoe Donner subdivision and large sections of Donner Lake and requires that any new homes built there be designed in a way to make them safer during avalanches. Bunker admitted using "bad judgment" in sending his secretary to pick up a $3,500 check from the Sahara Hotel-Casino and deliver it to the "Truth About Taxation Committee," an informal group set up by Sen. James Gibson, D-Hender-son, to promote List's tax plan in 1982. List tried to shield himself from the gaffe, calling it a "dumb mistake." Bryan, who defeated List in the election a week later, called it "unbelievable." . That incident holds a certain irony for outgoing Chairman Avance, who is being squeezed out by Bryan, apparently over reports earlier this year in Which he summoned a female gaming agent to a Las Vegas bar to drive him home. Bryan is expected to fill the vacancy later this month. As chairman, Bunker met privately with List and Frank Sinatra's attorney, Mickey Rudin, to discuss Sinatra's upcoming licensing at Caesars Palace. Despite accusations that the meeting was improper, List and Bunker said later they only wanted to discuss the format for the license meeting. Sinatra, who was forced out of gaming several years earlier because he entertained former Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana at his Cal Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe, was unanimously approved by the gaming boards. Bunker locked horns with then-Attorney General Bryan for denying Bryan's deputies access to closed Gaming Control Board briefings and investigative reports on gaming license applicants. At the t;me, Bryan was viewed as a political threat to Bunker's close ally, List. Bunker was chairman of the Control Board that approved former partners Wayne Newton and Ed Torres as licensees to buy the Aladdin Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Ousted Control Board Member Glen Mauldin later said that List, the man who appointed him, called him the night before the licensing vote to ask for a unanimous approval. Mauldin also said he thought Bunker withheld from the board information about Newton's associating with organized crime figures and that the Torres investigation was incomplete when the board acted on it. According to a court deposition. Bunker didn't tell Mauldin Avalanche areas Carson City Lake Tahoe Afplne Meadows and Alpine ? . Meadows road hikers in the area would be injured in their avalanche control work. There 'are some 18 distinct slide paths along that Highway 50 Flagpole Ridge Section, and Caltrans uses a 75mm recoil-less rifle to jar the snow loose and prevent avalanche-causing snow buildup on the steep cliffs. Elsewhere, avalanche control crews have already dug several exploratory holes used to determine the composition of the snowpack and the likelihood of it slipping. Crews at Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Mount Rose and other resorts have already made several early morning excursions up their mountains to lob explosives into the snowpack and dislodge any potential avalanches. The crews are dispatched when more than 6 inches of snow fall. AH is safe, they say. "We're definitely geared up for this winter," said U.S. Snow Ranger Bob Moore. "The resorts have always been cautious. They have extremely good programs." "We're concerned right from the first snowfall," said Mount Rose ski patrol mountain manager Phil Edholm. "We're always on toe lookout." About the only danger, officials say, is to the renegade skiers and snow- SLOPE-FACING walls must be constructed with bricks, or in some other way , that will allow the house to withstand the ' impact. The regulations add as much as; $10,000 to the cost of building a home' in ' those areas, but apparently has not diminished development. The county also requires landlords to post notices that their rentals lie in an avalanche zone. In late 1982, Placer County considered stricter guidelines that would prohibit building in avalanche-prone areas, but the ordinance was diluted after Realtors protested, claiming that avalanche zone designations and building restrictions would scare people unnecessarily. Now the ordinance just requires landlords to post notices to renters. There are emergency phone numbers listed, and a warning that those loud booms the renters hear are just avalanche control explosions. The ordinance, planners say, came about when Supervisor Larry Sevison found out that some renters thought the explosions were actually avalanches crashing down the mountain. While its avalanche ordinance is weak, Placer County planner Fred Yeager claims the county can still strictly control development in the hazardous areas. The new Squaw Valley general plan prohibits construction in slide zones, and it's likely the county will put similar prohibitions up when it gets around to updating Alpine that Newton telephoned Las Vegas Metro Police to find out how a reputed Gambino organized crime family member could go about registering as an ex-felon while staying at the Desert Inn. It was then learned that the crime soldier, Guido Penosi, had been indicted by a Connecticut grand jury for conspiring to extort money from Newton and singer Lola Falana. Penosi was eventually acquitted, and an alleged co-conspirator, Frank Piccolo, was murdered after being indicted. Then came the licensing of former Stardust executives Sachs and Tobman, viewed by some gaming officials as one of the worst regulatory blunders in Nevada gaming history. Sachs and Tobman, who agreed under pressure from the state this year to surrender their licenses and sell the Stardust, bought the Las Vegas Strip resort after another former owner, Allen Glick, was tossed out due to the discovery of a skimming operation. THE MOVE TO PUT the new operators in charge of the Stardust was touted by List in 1979 as a move to help "bring part of the Nevada gaming industry out of the mire and muck of the influence of organized crime." But the state now maintains skimming continued after Sachs and Tobman took over the Stardust. Earlier, there had been warnings the two were licensed without proper investigation. A Control Board auditor, Dick Law of Las Vegas, submitted a 200-page administrative report on Glick, alleging a pervasive skimming operation at the Stardust and its sister casinos, the Fremont, Hacienda and Marina. Bunker, who wasn't chairman at the time, said he was acting on the advice of the Attorney General's Office when he ordered the Law report confiscated and hidden from the parent Gaming Commission. The board chairman at the time, Roger Trounday, resigned largely due to conflicts with Bunker over the Stardust licensing. Among other things, the Law report noted that Sachs hired Rosenthal as a Stardust pit boss, beginning Rosenthal's long climb up the casino ladder a climb that ended abruptly when the state refused to license him. 7 Weeks -Ms5C' Reno Gazette-Journal -;Minden yS Highway 88 1 County South Shore Heavenly Valley Highway 50 along Echo summit Emerald Bay and north of Emerald Bay Paul Carbo Gazetle-Journai boarders using Flagpole Ridge. Although there is no developed resort up there, skiers frequently hitch rides to the top of Highway 50 and coast down the unmarked snowpack on skis or the surfboard-like snow board. Cal- trans is worried that one of them is going to either jar an avalanche loose or get clobbered by' a 75mm rifle shell. "There's always a threat that we'll fire of f the gun and then see a skier pop over the ridge," said Caltrans' Supervisor John Quails. "We've told them of the danger to them, but their attitude is, 'So what, you only live once.' It's very impressive 'what they do it takes a lot of skill but I just wish they would find a different place to do it.'' Highway 50 is just one stretch where highway crews have to be on constant alert for avalanche signs. Highway 89 along Emerald Bay and then between Tahoe City and Squa"w Valley are other areas, as is Highway V 88jnear Kirk- wood. The Mount Rose Highway, which J,-is patrolled by Edholm" forJfluj Nevada V . Department of Transportation, is susceptible to slides, Highway 80 over Donner Summit is never bothered with slides.- - Meadows' plan. But that's "not even in the pipeline yet," Yeager said. " "We,'can turn down a project because it's in an avalanche zone, but we could, also approve it if it has a special design," Yeager said. Construction can also be approved for a developer who agrees to do his own avalanche control work. WASHOE COUNTY has more than its share of avalanche danger zones, but has . no zoning laws to identify them. There are avalanche dangers at the Mount Rose Ski Resort, Slide Mountain and in the Galena Creek Basin, and about 30 homes in Crystal Bay sit in the shadow of a steep, avalanche-prone cornice, but the county has only recently begun studying the problem. Regional planners did ask Galena developers to map their avalanche zones, and that research led to some changes in the resort's layout. The county has also incorporated topographical avalanche information into its new computer system, so that if a parcel is in an avalanche zone, planners will know immediately. "Does the county need an avalanche ordinance? I don't know," said Mike Harper of the Department of Comprehensive Planning. "As planners we have a responsibility for identifying all potential hazards that have a reasonable occurrence. But if an avalanche happens every Law was fired for abusing "comp" time earned in preparing the Argent report, a move he claimed was a reprisal by Bunker for digging up detrimental information about his friends. But the Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled in his favor, ordering a local court to arrange for his reimbursement from the state. List, meanwhile, rushed to Bunker's defense, claiming Bunker "conformed to the highest ethical standards." Trounday, however, complained he was under pressure from List and Bunker to complete the Stardust matter. BL'NKER APPEARED unfazed by the fact that Sachs, the man hired to replace Glick in the skimmed Stardust, had a business relationship with known organized crime associate Moe Dalitz and that he.associated with known Chicago Mafia figures. Tobman has been a longtime friend of Bunker. FBI affidavits have accused Sachs and Tobman of being the overseers of a skimming operation in which Stardust profits were sent to Midwestern organized crime families. While the FBI was collecting information on the Stardust bosses, it withheld the data from the Control Board. A federal official has since told the Gazette-Journal it kept the information secret because "we didn't know what Bunker would do with it." Whether these issues will be considered by the Control Board Wednesday is known only by Avance, Jacka and Board Member Dick Hyte, who have been furnished reports by their staff. It is also unknown how extensively the Board will quiz the former chairman about his associations with Tobman, Sachs and Rosenthal. Gaming Control sources say they are aware of the above problems in connection with Bunker, but insisted the investigation summary turned up nothing that might keep the Control Board from approving his license. Gaming statutes give the board broad latitude in considering license applications, and even if Avance, Jacka and Hyte should recommend denial, the final decision remains in the hands of the five-member Gaming Commission. A , , 1 Sunday, December 9, 1984 23A 40 years, what do you do?" The lawsuits in California, if they reach trial, could help answer that and other questions. Attorneys in the case say there are few precedents to guide their lawsuits, and agree the legal proceedings will be long and complex. Each plaintiff is asking for an unspecified sum in excess of $1 million. Although Shelley Coleman, an attorney in the San Francisco law firm representing the Hahn and Yeatman families, said the suits against the county could go to trial early next year, Alpine attorneys said there was still a great deal of pre-trial work yet to be done in all the ' cases. "We're just too strongly opposed in our positions on the case," said Alpine Meadows attorney Paul Rosenlund, an associate in the law firm Hancock, Rothert and Bunshoft, which represents several Sierra resorts. "We have one idea about this case and they have a very different one." THE DEBATE OVER avalanche ordinances and the responsibilities of local governments has already rumbled through a number of winter resort areas in the West, where mountain ranges tend to be steeper and less stable than the geologically older and more settled ski hills of the East. In Chelan County in the state of Washington, developers sold a number of quarter-acre lots along the edge of Cascade Mountains in the 1960s when skiing was growing tremendously in popularity. There were no avalanche ordinances restricting building in the area, but a map showing the avalanche zones had been developed years before, and county officials knew the lots were in slide paths when they approved them. They felt they were powerless to stop the development, and no one warned the home builders who ; bought land. In 1971, a massive avalanche struck the area where some homes had been built. A home owned by Bart and Nancy Edgars of Seattle was demolished and the Edgars' two daughters were trapped alive in the crushed house much in the same f. way. Conrad was trapped in the Summit VTerminaJ- building. Bart and Nancy Edgars were killed. The daughters eventually, sued and the case wound through the courts for years. The daughters claimed their, parents should have been warnediThe county and state said they had no responsibility and did not have to defend themselves in t court. But the state Supreme Court ruled ' that the county had to face the matter in a civil proceeding a decision that led: , quickly-to an out-of-court settlement in faVbf Of the surviving daughters. IN CONTRAST, officials in Idaho's' Wood River Valley took immediate steps in the early 1970s when the skiing boom was putting growth pressures on the mountainous terrain around the nearby Sun Valley Ski Resort to restrict development in hazardous areas. An avalanche-hazard report was completed by Norman Wilson of Soda Springs, the same man who has done studies for Nevada and Placer counties, and Wilson and other experts recommended that no construction be allowed in the various high-hazard avalanche zones they found in the region. Local officials after a lengthy debate adopted an ordinance that restricts all developments but single-family homes. Home builders can "risk their own lives," officials said, but can't build before they get a stern warning from the local City Council. Multifamily dwellings have to be avalanche-proof. Rental agreements, deeds and title searches must, by law, reflect the fact that a dwelling is in an avalanche zone. Some opponents, including Washoe County commissioner Jim King, have . gone so far as to say that avalanches are like hurricanes or tornadoes people have a right to put up with them. "Do we zone out of existence tornado areas in Kansas ... or earthquake areas in San Francisco . . . even though we know they will, at some time, suffer such a disaster causing death and destruction? I think not!" King wrote in a column for the Gazette-Journal in January this year. Hijack From page 1A seeking to shift the blame for the deadlock to the Kuwaitis. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted by Tehran radio as saying Iran had the ability to end the hijacking by military means "but that Kuwait had opposed this." At least four people, including two Americans, have Deen killed since Tuesday's hijacking, and some reports put the figure at five. There were 145 passengers and 11 crew members on the plane when it was diverted here on a flight from Kuwait to Karachi, Pakistan, via Dubai. The gunmen have continued with their execution threats in the face of Kuwaiti refusal to comply with their demands to free Islamic militants who were charged with planting bombs and jailed in Kuwait last December. Earlier Saturday, the hijackers effectively grounded the Airbus by shooting out two windows on the flight deck and several on the passenger deck. It was not known whether any of the passengers were injured in the shooting. Despite the damage, the hijackers asked the plane to be fueled up and new electric batteries to be brought, an Iranian official said. The batteries were sent in but not the fuel. Friday night in return for the broadcast of a message including their demands, which they wanted transmitted to Kuwait, the hijackers released eight of their hostages, six Pakistanis and the only two Iranians on board. In the message, the gunmen said their first reason for hijacking was that it was God's will, and the second was to come to the aid of their "innocent brothers." They claimed the "Kuwaiti government and its two associated butchers, the United States and France," had tortured the prisoners to make them confess involvement in the bomb attacks in Kuwait. Tney identified two U.S. hostages they had already killed and warned they would kill a third American and three Kuwaiti diplomats and other Kuwaiti and U.S. hostages unless their demands were met. Wire service reports

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