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Swiss prosecutor sets target for decision in Zoricic case

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Associated Press
3/7/2013 10:16:25 AM
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GENEVA -- Legal action following the fatal crash of Canadian skicross racer Nik Zoricic at a World Cup in Switzerland is likely to be made clearer in June.

Angered by a Swiss police file calling Zoricic's death an accident, Zoricic's family threatened at a news conference in Toronto on Wednesday to sue skiing's governing bodies if they don't act by a June 15 deadline.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Switzerland aim to complete investigations -- and bring possible criminal charges -- within months.

"The investigation is now in its closing phase and it should be possible to conclude it by about the middle of this year," Bern canton prosecutor's office spokesman Christof Scheurer wrote in an email reply to The Associated Press.

"So long as no further questions arise that would make it necessary to bring in an expert and would delay the conclusion of the proceedings," wrote Scheurer, adding there was "no reason" yet to address criticism from Canada.

Zoricic sustained fatal head injuries when he landed into safety nets and hard-packed snow on flying wide off a final jump at Grindelwald last March 10.

Prosecutors have received a report from Bern police that declined to blame local race organizers or the International Ski Federation (FIS) which sanctions the skicross World Cup series.

"This is a tragic case of sporting accident with fatal outcome," stated the report, which was circulated by the Zoricic family lawyers on Wednesday. "In the light of the conducted investigations, causation by a third party can be excluded."

Zoricic's father, Bebe, described the report as a "whitewash" to reporters at the Toronto offices of legal firm Danson Recht.

The police dossier was "either the most incompetent police investigation I have ever seen in over 32 years of practice, or it was intended to protect powerful interests in Switzerland," family lawyer Tim Danson said.

The family has pledged to take legal action on June 16 if skiing's governing bodies have not yet agreed to undertake their own investigations.

FIS and Alpine Canada, which issued statements late Wednesday, say they are awaiting the prosecutor's decision.

"The police report is the basis for the state prosecutor to decide whether any persons shall be charged and brought to court because of negligent homicide," FIS said. "However, the state prosecutor has not issued his decision yet and until this time we have no further comment to the investigation carried out by the state here in Switzerland."

Max Gartner, the president of Alpine Canada, said the body was "disappointed" that a final report from Swiss authorities was still unavailable.

"With respect to calls for a separate, independent investigation, we continue to await the publication of the final Swiss police report and look forward to reviewing the investigation's findings," Gartner said.

Prosecutors' spokesman Scheurer said the department would issue a news release about its decision on criminal charges "at the appropriate time."

FIS stepped up safety measures this season in skicross, which joined the Winter Olympics program in 2010 and involves four skiers racing over a turning course of dips, bumps and jumps. Course designers were given more detailed guidelines to prepare races, and FIS assigned an adviser to work with World Cup local organizing committees.

On Sunday, the anniversary of Zoricic's death, the skicross world championships are scheduled to be held at Voss, Norway.

Nik Zoricic (Photo: Francis Bompard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Francis Bompard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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