Federal prosecutors have dismissed a misdemeanor citation filed against a man who leaped off a cliff to save his wife, whose parachute had failed to open during the newlyweds’ adventure in southern Utah.
Amber Marie Bellows, 28, died after she fell Saturday performing what’s known as a BASE jump. BASE is an acronym for building, antenna, span, and earth, the fixed objects from which participants jump. A Zion National Park officer cited Clayton Hoyt Butler, 29, for flying a parachute through a national park without a permit. The charge could have led to six months in prison.
But the U.S. attorney’s office for Utah said late Wednesday that the “interests of justice do not warrant prosecution” of Butler.
“To be sure, BASE jumping in Zion National Park is unlawful, and this tragic BASE jumping accident underscores some of the reasoning behind the regulations which prohibit such conduct,” spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said in a statement.
Many other parachuters have faced federal charges because they jumped off cliffs in national parks in what has been a decades-long battle between parks officials and thrill-sports enthusiasts.
Rydalch said sentences have reached as much as three months in prison for one defendant and a $5,000 fine for a company involved in a jump. She said the U.S. attorney's office could not determine exactly how many people have faced charges related to such jumps.
Butler and Bellows were married Jan. 24, according to an obituary published in the Salt Lake Tribune. The couple had completed several successful jumps, according to videos posted on Butler’s YouTube profile. And he had posted a picture on Facebook just before the couple began hiking up the 3,000-foot mountain, which Bellows was the first to jump from.
“Her family wishes to express their heartfelt gratitude to the Zion National Park rescue team who risked their lives to help bring Amber home,” the obituary read.
More than $8,000 had been raised for Butler in an online campaign. Bellows' funeral is scheduled for Friday.
Parks officials said this was the 29th case of a fatal fall at Zion, but the first involving a BASE jump. Because jumpers remain so close to the building or cliff from which they jumped, the sport is considered more dangerous than skydiving from a plane.