Extreme Kayaker, Big Mountain Skier Dean Cummings Acquitted of 2nd-degree Murder

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Dean Cummings, a longtime Alaskan whitewater kayaker and founder of heli ski outfit Valdez H20 Heli Adventures in 1995, has been behind bars for the past two and a half years after deputies say he shot and killed a man during a dispute in a rural area town west of Jemez Pueblo.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Stephen Montoya, Sandoval County spokesman, said Dean Cummings, now 56, was charged with an open count of murder in the Feb. 29, 2020, death of Guillermo Arriola. The Magistrate Court noted that Cummings called 911 around 5:45 p.m. that day to report that he was attacked by Arriola and shot him dead. Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputies found Cummings outside a mobile home in San Luis, NM, and arrested him. Arriola’s body was found face down inside the mobile home and a rifle was on the stairs outside. Cummings told deputies he shot Arriola after Arriola sprayed his face with a “burning chemical.”

Cummings is a former U.S. Freestyle Ski Team member who took second place at the inaugural World Extreme Skiing Championships in 1991, behind Doug Coombs, and won the won the event in 1995. In 2012, he won the Best Line Award for the first descent of Meteorite Mountain’s Dragon’s Back off Thompson Pass, and he has claimed more than 220 first descents, mostly in Alaska’s Chugach range.

Cummings is equally adept as a kayaker. He has a YouTube channel containing such whitewater clips as “Kayaking the Rio Embudo with Ed Lucero and Dean Cummings” from 2014, during which they ran the Class V river at an all-time high of 4.5 feet on the Dixon gauge. Cummings also has numerous first descents in Alaska and starred in the paddling film PaddleQuest. He was also part of a team that ran the first descent of California’s North Fork of the American River’s Royal Gorge in 1998, along with Scott Lindgren, Tao Berman, Clay Wright and Tom Waclow.

Last week, Cummings stood trial for the murder of 47-year-old Arriola, where a jury found Cummings not guilty of second-degree murder. Cummings pled not guilty to the charges against him and faced three felonies brought by New Mexico prosecutors, including tampering with evidence, concealing his identity, and second-degree murder, which carried a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

According to a story in The Inertia, the two men had been negotiating the sale of Arriola’s ranch, located north of Cabezon Peak in rural Sandoval County. The two men argued, Arriola attacked, and Cummings killed him in self-defense, the skier said. During his testimony, Cummings delivered a step-by-step account of what he remembered from the night of Feb. 29. He attempted to discuss his pending real estate deal with Arriola, who “definitely seemed intoxicated” and uninterested in talking, Cummings said. They began to argue, and that’s when Arriola attacked him and said, “I’m gonna kill you,” he said.

Watch testimony here:

Read earlier story HERE

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