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Judges stand by verdict over avalanche deaths

The avalanche in the resort of Evolène cost the lives of 12 people Keystone

A Swiss court has upheld suspended prison sentences against two men implicated in the deaths of 12 people, killed by an avalanche in an alpine village in 1999.

This content was published on January 17, 2006 - 16:56

The former mayor of Evolène and the local security chief were found guilty of failing to take adequate precautions.

The Valais appeals tribunal in southeastern Switzerland confirmed in principle a previous sentence handed down in February 2005.

Judges said on Tuesday the defendants didn't do enough to prevent the tragedy in the Hérens valley.

The court added that both men should have predicted the dangerous conditions and failed to order the evacuation of houses and the closure of a road in the high-risk zone.

The avalanche killed 12 people, razed a dozen houses and destroyed 25 hectares of forest nearly seven years ago.

The court upheld a two-month suspended jail term against the head of security who is also a mountain guide. But it reduced the three-month prison sentence against the mayor to just one month.

Concern

The defence, which had lodged the appeal, said it was examining the latest verdict. It said a decision on whether to take the case to the Federal Court for a final ruling would be made before the end of the month.

An initial verdict sparked an outcry among mountain guides and local authorities in many mountain regions. They argued that the ruling would set a precedent and discourage anybody from taking up public office.

They said it is impossible to predict the direction of all avalanches and that individuals should not be held to account for unexpected acts of nature.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Timeline:
February 1999: Two unusually heavy avalanches hit the alpine village of Evolène, killing 12 people.
May 2000: Legal proceedings are launched against the mayor of Evolène, Pierre-Henri Pralong, and security chief and mountain guide André Georges.
February 2005: Six years after the avalanches struck the village, a district court finds both men guilty of manslaughter. They receive suspended prison sentences.
January 2006: An appeals court confirms the sentences in principle.

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