An investigation report recounts the moments before a 46-year-old Milburn man was suffocated to death on a ski lift in Colorado, with a witness telling investigators that the lift operator was not paying attention and refused to take action because he didn't have permission.

Jason Varnish, a father of three, was killed on Feb. 13 at the Blue Sky Basin in Vail, Colorado, after he slipped through a gap on the chair and his coat got caught.

The coroner's office found that the lift's folding seat was upright instead of in the down position, creating the gap.

“The coat ended up going around his head and neck area putting his neck in a position that compromised his airway,” Eagle County Coroner Karla Bettis said.

According to the sheriff's incident report, Varnish was lifted 20 to 25 feet off the ground.  Varnish's companion “hollered to the lift operator to stop the lift," The Associated Press reported.

The lift operator was not paying attention and had been cleaning off snow in the area and did not stop it, according to the sheriff's report.

“Jason was struggling, trying to get unhooked and getting his coat unzipped,” the report said.

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Resort guests tried unsuccessfully to form a human pyramid to push up Varnish’s legs and feet, according to a Daily Vail report about the findings. The operator initially said that he could not reverse the lift without permission, according to the report.

The Daily Vail said the sheriff's investigation determined the lift was eventually reversed and Varnish was cut down. The death was ruled an accident.

Varnish's family has enlisted the Colorado law firm Burg Simpson to find witnesses and recordings of the incident.

The Sheriff's Office and the Vail Ski Resort did not immediately return messages on Saturday morning.

Base of ski lift in Vail, Colorado where Jason Varnish was found hanging
Base of ski lift in Vail, Colorado where Jason Varnish was found hanging (Dennis Symons,

(Includes material copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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