More details emerge in fatal ride on Six Flags roller coaster

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Court documents allege that a Texas Giant operator violated Six Flags’ “if-in-doubt” policy when she allowed a roller coaster to leave the station despite her belief that a lap bar was not correctly in place for a Dallas woman who was killed after being thrown from the ride.

The allegation was made in a motion filed Monday afternoon by lawyers for the family of Rosa Esparza, the 52-year-old woman killed in the July 19 incident.

The nearly 7-hour deposition of the ride attendant, portions of which were included in the motion filed Monday, shows that the ride operator did not think Esparza’s lap bar was not in the proper position — but she did not stop the roller coaster.

The ride attendant, who is responsible for pulling up on each lap bar of the train cars to be sure they’re locked, said he was confident it was secured, according to the deposition.

“Whenever she [ride operator] talked about that, I am like, look, you know — in my head, I’m like, I secured it,” the attendant said. “I did my job. Whatever you think is whatever you think.”

According to the motion, the ride operator is supposed to verify that all guests are seated properly and that lap bars are locked. The ride operator is supposed to press the “lift stop button” to park the train if a guest is not seated properly, a restraint is not far enough down, or anything unusual is noticed.

The motion indicates the ride operator said in a statement that she believes she saw the lap bar in an improper position before the fatal ride. The motion does not clarify to whom the ride operator made the statement.

During an interview with Arlington police, which conducted a death investigation, a person identified as the “supervisor for Ride Operations” said that the safety restraint on Esparza was a “little high” and “not as tight as it should be,” according to a police report.

The train was allowed to leave after a control panel showed “the restraint was secure,” according to the report. It is not known if the person interviewed by Arlington police is the ride operator named in the motion filed Monday.

During the deposition of the ride attendant, plantiff attorney Frank Branson questioned him about the ride operator.

“If you were grading her papers for her conduct on that day as it relates to following the no-doubt policy, how would you grade her?” Branson asked.

“According to this training, she did not do what it entails,” the ride attendant answered over objections from the Six Flags attorney.

“So you would have to give her a failing mark?” Branson asked.

The ride attendant answered, “I would say she would not pass.”

“... If she does believe that the bar was not fully down, then she should have stopped the train,” the attendant said.

Esparza’s family filed suit in September naming Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Entertainment Corp., Six Flags Theme Park Inc., Texas Flags Ltd. and Gerstslauer Amusement Rides, the German company that manufactured the ride, as defendants.

Both Six Flags and Gerstslauer have denied liability in the case.

‘Discovery’ in case stalled

The motion, which also seeks sanctions against Six Flags Over Texas, was filed after the plantiff’s attorneys’ discovery in the case was apparently stalled.

According to the motion, attorneys had shown the ride attendant — the only deposed witness thus far — photographs of Esparza’s body for him to identify. The attendant had been working just four days and found her body after she fell off the ride.

Six Flags attorneys objected, and on Jan. 8 filed a separate motion asking that the medical examiner’s photos not be used during the depositions of any other Six Flags employees.

The Six Flags attorneys argued that the photographs were not necessary in obtaining the attendant’s testimony and were simply used a “ploy” to unnerve the employee and break his focus. They pointed out that the plaintiff’s attorneys have requested depositions of several seasonal Six Flags employees, who range in age from 16 to 18, as well as full-time employees.

“Neither group should be subjected to emotional distress from being shown these graphic photos,” they argue in their motion, which remained pending as of Tuesday.

‘Groundless and frivolous’

In the plaintiff’s motion, the attorneys ask the court to deny and sanction Six Flags for filing what they deem is a “groundless and frivolous” motion.

The plantiff attorneys accuse Six Flags of “holding the entire discovery process hostage and refusing to produce any other witnesses for deposition unless plaintiffs agree that they will not use any scene photographs.”

“Six Flags continues to misplace its priorities and refuses to face the reality of Mrs. Esparza’s terrifying death,” the motion states. “Six Flags is more concerned that its inexperienced ride attendant — who they never reprimanded and have since promoted to operate a different high-risk ride — is emotionally distressed and ‘still upset about being shown these photos.’”

“The Esparza family is also upset, and they will spend the rest of their lives enduring the mental anguish caused by this occurrence.”

The ride was shut down the night of Esparza’s fatal fall and reopened in September after Six Flags said its investigation found that no mechanical failure was involved.

Six Flags has added redesigned restraint-bar pads from the manufacturer, new seat belts, and began providing a coaster seat at the ride entrance so guests may test whether they fit into the seat before entering the line.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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