By Anna Gustafson
The family of a Forest Hills man who died while skiing on the border of Idaho and Wyoming earlier this year plans to sue a number of Idaho agencies for $5 million, according to a notice of claims recently filed by the relatives.
Edward “Eddie” Fitzgerald, 46, of Forest Hills died of hypothermia Jan. 20 after he fell into a creek while on a skiing trip at the Grand Targhee Resort in western Wyoming, police said.
The man’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, of Forest Hills; mother, Gail McCaul, of Forest Hills; and sister, Christine Fitzgerald, of West Springfield, Mass., filed the wrongful death notice in Teton County, Idaho, last month. The family in the notice, which precedes the actual lawsuit, named Teton County, Teton County’s sheriff’s office and Teton County Sheriff Tony Liford, among others, for being at fault in the death of the Forest Hills man, an experienced skier who had traversed slopes across the globe.
The claim also named Teton County Search and Rescue, a nonprofit, as being at fault.
Grand Targhee is in Wyoming, but both Idaho and Wyoming rescue workers responded to Fitzgerald’s calls for help because the area is so close to the border. The family is expected to sue Wyoming agencies, according to their Wyoming-based, attorney Roy Jacobson.
The notice of claims alleges “because of wholly inadequate perimeter markings and warnings, Eddie unknowingly skied out of the Grand Targhee Resort area into an area later identified as South Leigh Canyon.” After realizing he was lost, the 46-year-old made a series of phone calls to Teton County’s sheriff’s office, during which he told them he got lost after taking a double chair lift at Grand Targhee and was “in a meadow next to a stream with a bunch of felled trees,” according to the notice.
The claim alleges that the Idaho sheriff’s office’s dispatcher, Idaho sheriff officials or Idaho Search and Rescue personnel did not inform Wyoming officials that Fitzgerald was by a stream in a meadow or that his cell phone was dying.
“Because of the incomplete information passed on from Teton County, Idaho Dispatch and Sheriff’s Office, the Teton County, Wyoming Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Search and Rescue made the false assumption that Eddie would be capable of calling back,” the notice of claims says.
This information, the notice says, was “vital” because “the only stream in the immediate area of the Grand Targhee Resort double chair lift was South Leigh Creek.”
Because of the “incomplete information,” rescue workers lost “precious search hours trying to locate Eddie,” the notice says.
Rescuers postponed their search for the skier late on Jan. 19 and resumed the search early Jan. 20, after which they found Fitzgerald “unresponsive and unconscious,” according to the notice.
Fitzgerald, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism, was an extremely bright individual who majored in chemistry and became an avid outdoorsman who skied in France, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and on some of the most difficult slopes throughout the United States, his father said. He worked at a Long Island post office.
“Eddie sky-dived, Eddie rode his bicycle from Forest Hills to Glen Cove, L.I., anytime,” Edward Fitzgerald said in January about his son, who died on the elder Fitzgerald’s birthday. “Eddie could do anything. Eddie was a very, very smart person.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.