Autopsy confirms skier died of suffocation

First responders at Mt. Ashland ski area attempted to revive a 23-year-old ski patrol member who died after hitting a tree on the south end of the mountain Saturday. [Photo Courtesy Jackson County Sheriff's Office]

An autopsy preformed Monday has confirmed that Johnathan Patrick Likeke Walker, 23, died of suffocation following a skiing accident on Mt. Ashland on Saturday, according to a statement released by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

During the investigation, deputies learned that Walker was skiing in a group of three Mt. Ashland Ski Patrol members. Walker was the last of the group to descend the hill leading up to the incident. According to the JCSO, the other skiers looked back to find that Walker had skied into a tree well and had become trapped upside down in the snow.

Tree wells occur when snow covers the lower branches of a tree, forming an air pocket beneath the snow. The ground around the trunk will appear solid, with the tree well not visible to the passing skiers. They are more likely to form after a heavy snowfall. Tree wells are extremely difficult to escape, particularly if the person falls in head first - moving too much can cause a person to sink further and become trapped.

The skiers in Walker's group climbed back up the steep hill and worked to free him from the snow, but he was not breathing. They facilitated aid and took him back up the slope to the ski area. Medical personnel continued resuscitation until he was pronounced dead at 3:37 p.m. Efforts to resuscitate Walker by ski patrol members, as well as by medical personnel at the ski area, continued for approximately two hours.

911 received the call reporting a skiing accident on the south side of the mountain, outside the boundaries of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area just after 1:30 p.m. Saturday, February 16th. JCSO deputies responded to the ski area, along with personnel from Ashland Fire & Rescue.

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