13 in 2013: Family sues after woman falls to her death from Six Flags coaster

Posted Friday, Dec. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Editor’s note: This is one of 13 reports on the top local stories of 2013.

Rosy Esparza, the Dallas woman who fell to her death from the Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington on July 19, was described by family members and others as “the glue that held the family together.”

“She was a good mother,’’ said the family’s attorney, Frank Branson of Dallas. “She was very close to all the family members. This is a huge loss.”

Esparza’s death on the mammoth roller coaster was among the biggest local news stories of 2013.

In September, Esparza’s family filed a lawsuit against the amusement park’s owners and the ride’s German manufacturer that seeks to recover $1 million in damages. Six Flags officials have declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

The legal dispute is expected to explore the root cause of the accident that caused the death of Esparza, 52, based on incident reports, testimony from witnesses, the family’s lawsuit and other information.

At issue has been whether the ride’s safety mechanism worked properly. A number of witnesses told police that Esparza had trouble with the lap bar on the ride and that they suspect that could have been the cause of the fall.

The suit also states that inspections done on the roller coaster since Esparza’s death “showed that various parts of the security systems on the ride were experiencing inconsistencies and intermittent failures.”

One witness told police that while she was getting on the ride, “a lady was streaming [sic] her leg was trapped.

“She had her leg sticking out too far when the gates closed that hold back the next riders — and it trapped her leg,” the witness wrote in her email to investigators.

Another witness said Esparza had questions about whether she was secured correctly. Questions were also raised after the accident about whether her weight was a factor.

Investigators who surveyed the scene interviewed park employees and were told that the safety sensors and safe buttons on the ride were working properly that day.

The coaster’s restraining system works on hydraulic pressure, an investigator wrote.

“Each restraint is connected to an electronic sensor that is only illuminated in the safe mode when the restraint is lowered to its predetermined position. Once this sensor is illuminated, the train then sends a signal to the operating panel confirming the restraint position.”

If the sensor malfunctions or the restraint is not lowered properly, the investigator reported, “the train will not function and would not be allowed to depart the train depot.”

In addition, employees who load the ride must push a “safe” button in order for the train to clear the station, the investigator wrote.

The discovery process in the family’s suit is underway, said Branson, the attorney. No trial date has been set.

“We are seeking information and taking depositions,” the attorney said. “Recently, we took the deposition of one of the attendants on the ride. We had a couple of them scheduled, and we’ve had one of the two.”

The Texas Giant is 14 stories high and has a drop of 79 degrees and a bank of 95 degrees. It can carry up to 24 riders. It first opened in 1990 as an all-wooden coaster but underwent a $10 million renovation to install steel-hybrid rails and reopened in 2011.

Esparza was killed on her first visit to the amusement park. The family’s lawsuit says Esparza was upside down in her seat and holding on for “dear life” before she was thrown to her death.

She first hit a metal support beam and then landed on the metal roof of a tunnel about 75 feet below, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.

Her daughter and son-in-law were on the ride with her when the accident occurred.

Branson said the family has been deeply affected by the accident and declined to speak with the Star-Telegram for this report .

Six Flags officials issued a statement after the death, saying, “We are deeply saddened to share that earlier this evening an adult woman died in the park while on the Texas Giant. … Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time.”

The ride was immediately shut down, but it reopened in August after Six Flags added redesigned restraint-bar pads from the manufacturer and seat belts. The park also began providing a coaster seat at the ride’s entrance so guests can test whether they fit before entering the line.

Several days after the accident, Six Flags officials said an internal investigation into the death had found that mechanical failure was not involved.

Texas law does not require any state investigation into amusement park deaths, so the park itself handled the inquiry.

Branson said he was not aware of any other lawsuits filed in connection with the tragedy.

This report contains material from Star-Telegram archives.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard

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