German executive says blame rests on Six Flags for death in roller coaster ride

The head of the German company that designed and made the train cars used on the New Texas Giant roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington has blamed the death of a Dallas woman last summer on the amusement park and ride operators.

For the first time since his company filed a counterclaim against Six Flags, managing director Siegfried Gerstlauer testified in more detail about their allegations in depositions held in August and last month, and said Six Flags was the “sole cause” of the accident that killed Rosa Esparza in July 2013, Frank Branson, the Dallas lawyer representing her family, said Friday.

Gerstlauer testified that the lap bar that was to secure Esparza was not properly in place, Branson said.

Furthermore, Gerstlauer said that when a ride operator noticed that was the case, the worker did not stop the ride, which violated the park’s “if in doubt” policy that required the ride be stopped and and the lap bar fixed.

Kenneth Broughton, a Houston lawyer representing Gerstlauer, confirmed the testimony.

Efforts to contact Bryan Pope, a Dallas lawyer representing Six Flags, for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

Six Flags has consistently maintained that the ride was defective and that it followed all the recommended operational and maintenance procedures as spelled out by Gerstlauer, even at the time of the accident.

Gerstlauer also testified that the train cars were made with seat belt anchors, but the belts and buckles were not installed, Branson said. Six Flags installed them following the accident.

Gerstlauer provided testimony Aug. 20 and 21 in Dallas, and again Sept. 24-26 in Amsterdam, court records show. Branson spoke about the depositions with Gerstlauer because they are now completed.

Depositions, though, are still being taken in the case, which is now scheduled for trial in January. The family is seeking more than $1 million.

Ongoing legal fight

Esparza’s family filed a lawsuit two months after the accident against Six Flags Entertainment Corp. and three other Six Flags-related entities, as well as Gerstlauer Amusement Rides, the 60-employee company based in Münsterhausen. Six Flags and Gerstlauer have also filed cross claims, each blaming the other for the accident.

Esparza was thrown about 75 feet from the ride, as her daughter and son-in-law sat in front of her. The suit says Esparza was upside down in her seat and holding on for “dear life” before she fell to her death.

Following the accident, the ride was immediately shut down before reopening two months later after Six Flags’ investigation found no mechanical failure was involved. Six Flags added redesigned restraint-bar pads provided by the manufacturer, as well as seat belts, and began providing a coaster seat at the ride’s entrance so guests can test whether they fit safely into the cars.

Lawyers for Esparza learned that the park had received, but stored, a test seat from Gerstlauer when the ride was reopened in 2011 following a yearlong $10 million renovation.