DENVER (KDVR) – An attorney representing the family of a 6-year-old girl who fell to her death at a Colorado amusement park filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday against the park’s owners.
The girl, Wongel Estifanos, was killed on Sept. 5 after falling from a ride at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs.
A report released Sept. 24 detailed multiple errors by park operators. The investigation revealed that operators didn’t notice the little girl was sitting on her two seatbelts instead of being strapped into them before the Haunted Mine Drop ride took off.
During the investigation, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment found that an alarm system warned of a problem on the ride, but the workers had not received enough training to know what to do. A worker then decided to reset the system and sent the ride on its way.
Attorney Dan Caplis, who represents the family, said he does not believe a waiver signed by park guests before entering will infringe on the lawsuit — despite that waiver including language giving up rights to potential lawsuits — because Wongel’s death was the result of “reckless acts,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit further alleges there were dramatic warnings about the ride at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, long before Estifanos’ death. Specifically, the lawsuit claims that a separate park patron — a parent — had noticed a similar problem on the Haunted Mine Drop three years ago, telling operators to “Wait! Wait!” when she saw an unbuckled teenage boy on the ride.
It was an unbuckled belt on the drop that led to the death of Estifanos, attorneys say.
The girl had gone with her family to the park. on Sept. 5 Her family’s attorney says she was never buckled in properly, even though alarms were going off.
“They still didn’t look and see they had failed to seatbelt her. They did a workaround… and launched the ride anyway,” said Dan Caplis, the Estifanos family attorney.
Wongel fell 110 feet to the bottom of a cave when the ride launched.
The lawsuit places blame on the park’s operators, claiming they are “solely responsible” for making sure riders are buckled in. The family says the girl’s uncle trusted that those workers were properly securing the child.
Caplis added the park knew that operators “were failing to put seatbelts on some of its riders,” describing what happened as a “felonious killing.”
The family is suing for monetary damages, but they say they also want the truth about Wongel’s death to be known.
“The importance in the amount of money is to send a message and change bad behavior and to send a message to the entire industry, because experience tells us that nothing changes bad behavior quicker than a jury verdict,” Caplis said.
The family wants the case tried before a jury. They do not want a settlement.
Glenwood Caverns issued a statement Wednesday, saying the park “is aware of the lawsuit.”
“It would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation. Our hearts go out to the Estifanos family and those impacted by their loss.”
The company has 30 days to respond in court. A trial could take place within the next year.