Sunday, July 1, 2007

When the thrill bites back

On June 29 2007, Gabriela Garin, 21, of White Plains NY, was killed after fastening some late-arriving riders into their seats on the Mind Scrambler ride at Playland Amusement Park in Rye NY. The early reports had led the public to believe that this was another in what seems to be a series of tragic accidents this summer. These would include the June 26 death of a 14 year-old girl on the Rock 'n' Roll Coaster at Disneyland Resort Paris and the June 21 accident at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville KY.

The Mind Scrambler is the same ride where a 7 year-old girl died after slipping out of the restraints and it is now the fourth fatality within that park in the past four years. Garin though, was not on the ride for the thrills, she had just changed shifts as an operator and offered to help fasten the last riders into their seats before leaving for the night. The new operator stepped into the booth and according to Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, with impatient riders shouting for it to start, began the ride. His view was apparently blocked by a high back on the ride's seat and he didn't see Garin kneeling on a seat bench. He shut the ride down within 20 seconds of starting but Garin had already been thrown to her death.

"She grew up in this place, and this place took her away from us," said Ruby Garin, her sister.

Garin had begun visiting Playland when she was three years old and at 21, the single mother had been working there for seven years, since she was 14. Emergency workers had responded quickly but she was pronounced dead at the scene at around 9:30pm.

Officials are awaiting the autopsy results of the 14 year-old in Paris but it is is speculated that it will probably be revealed as a previously unknown medical condition, not a specific failure of the ride. That isn't the case with the accident that seriously injured Kaitlyn Lassiter, 13, of Louisville KY at Six Flags.

Lassiter was riding the 177 foot tall Superman Tower of Power and her future was radically changed by the time the ride came to an end. Witnesses Chris Williams and Treva Smith both reported seeing a cable on the ride break when the car was at it's highest. Williams claims to have also seen the cable hit Lassiter. Both women scrambled to get to their children when the ride ended and Smith stated that Kaitlyn seemed to be silently seated in shock, having lost both her feet above the ankles.

Immediately after the accident, all free-fall rides designed by Swiss company Intamin, and similar to the Superman Tower of Power in design were shut down for immediate inspections. ThatTh*ngGirl has posted an explaination of what could be the actual failure of the ride and the results of such a failure in the forum of SixFlagsHouston. Her description, combined with witness reports, place the failure of a lifting cable happening as the car reached the end of it's lift. Whether it broke in the final few inches of lift or seconds later, the car would have begun it's freefall and probably wouldn't be noticed by riders or operators. That cable wrapped itself around Kaitlyn's ankles as it whipped free and caused the gruesome injuries she suffered.

The Lassiter family has chosen to keep their family's privacy and has only stated that Kaitlyn is in stable condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her former softball teammates dedicated their June 27 divisional championship win to her and head coach Jimmie Just has said they have an extra trophy for her.

Whether the speculation of Kaitlyn having one foot reattached is true, she will have a minimum of several months of rehabilitation. Vanderbilt has a specialized pediatric orthopedic unit that is capable of that type of surgery and from all reports, she is in the best of care.

In just brief moments, accidents within two amusement parks radically changed the lives of two young women. Gabriela Garin died working the job she has loved for seven years, helping to thrill people and her child's life is forever changed by it. Kaitlyn Lassiter went for a day of thrills and now faces a life no one in her family could have predicted. The grief these families may feel is warrented, chance had these young women in the wrong spot at the wrong moment.

Update: Playland Amusement Park officials have acknowledged that a safety precaution created after the May 22 2004 death of Stephanie Dieudonne, 7, was ignored before Garin's death. There was no second attendent on duty in the booth as had been announced they planned to do after Dieudonne's death.

"She knows this ride like the back of her hand. This behavior is inconsistant with what people know about her," Andrew Spano said of Garin.

The Mind Scrambler was immediately shut down after the accident and will remain closed for the rest of the summer, as had happened in 2004. Playland officials have also closed the two other rides owned or operated by S & L Amusements within the park pending an inspection of safety procedures.

Update: posted July 2.

The death of Gabriela Garin, a supervisor and an employee both county officials and family members described as a responsible manager is still being investigated. Although some have speculated that Garin was riding the ride when she was thrown to her death, uniformed park workers on duty are forbidden from riding and riders have told officials they saw her kneeling, not seated.

Rubi Garin and Maria Devenney, Garin's sisters, have said that they don't believe the county official's version of events. They do not believe their sister would have boarded the ride without buckling up and she had told them that she didn't even like that ride.

The sequence of events seem not be what I had originally posted from available sources, Garin was not leaving for the night when the accident occured. Gabriela was operating the ride Friday night but at some point in the evening, she told the other worker there that she was tired of working in the darkened tent and wanted to collect tickets out front. The accident occured at that point and had there been a third worker there, as park officials had stated there would be back in 2004, Garin's death may not have happened.

Peter Tartaglia, a spokesman for the county's Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, stated that investigators were trying to determine why a third person had not been on duty then. They are also investigating why the operator, who's name has not been released at this time, started the ride when he did.

Gabriela Garin began coming to the park with her mother who was employed there and grew to love it so much she also worked there. Garin, the single mother of 2 year-old Patricia also was a student at Westchester Community College, studying with the hope to become a teacher. Plans for her funeral have not been announced as of yet.

For more information on amusement parks and roller coasters worldwide see here.

Update: Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom posted July 2

Kaitlyn Lassiter, described as a pretty and popular student at Highland Middle School had recently transferred there from another Jefferson County public school. Her neighbors said that the Lasitter family had moved to Kentucky from Florida recently. Despite being fairly new to the area, her accident has been hard on her classmates.

John Howser, a spokesman for Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, has said that Kaitlyn is continuing in her recovery. We can expect updates on Kaitlyn to be similar to this in the future out of respect for her family's privacy.

Dr Wilbur Frye, executive director of the Department of Argriculture has said in his statement, their investigators are analyzing a tremendous volume of evidence. They are still taking written statements from witnesses and the Department of Agriculture has secured the cable that is believed to have injured Kaitlyn.

Sandor Kernacs, president of Intamin, has said that his company provided the ride to Kentucky Kingdom about 14 years ago but they did not supply the cables used. He did say a failed cable on the ride caused the injuries but it is unknown as to why it snapped.

Once the investigation into the accident is complete, the Department of Agriculture will inspect and test the ride before it can be reopened for use.

Update: posted July 3 11:30 pm

Newest press release in regards to Kaitlyn Lasitter:

Doctors at Vanderbilt Hospital have confirmed that they were able to reattach Kaitlyn Lasitter's right foot and that things are progressing as expected over the past ten days. They were unable to reattach her left foot due to the severity of the injury.

"We look forward to Kaitlyn's recovery and getting back to some sort of normalcy in our lives in Louisville," stated Randy Lasitter.

Randy and Monique Lasitter have established a trust fund for their daughter Katie at:
Class Act Credit Union
3620 Fern Valley Rd
The trust fund is in the name of Kaitlyn Lasitter.

For a complete view of the recent press release from Vanderbilt Hospital look here.

I apologise for the incorrect spelling of Kaitlyn's last name in previous posts, in a rush to get news out it had apparently originally been released with an incorrect spelling to the media and I unfortunately continued to follow suit.

Update: posted July 5, Gabriela Garin

The investigation in Gabriela Garin's untimely death continues, now it is said with differing witness statements.

Passengers have said that it appeared she was kneeling in one of the cars and facing backwards. Thomas Belfiore, the county commisioner of public safety has said that she may have stood up seconds before she fell out and was struck by another car on the ride. The unidentified 18 year-old operator has said that he believed that Garin was seated but had turned to face backwards as the ride started.

The New York State Department of Labor's original statement had said that Garin was standing beside the ride, instructing a rider to sit properly when she was struck. After Monday's news conference, Leo Rosales, a spokesman for that department has said that they are no longer sure of their original statement and believe she was on the ride.

County officials are still investigating why there wasn't a third person working at the ride and trying to determine whether the operator stopped the ride when he saw she wasn't buckled in or when she was thrown from it. The emergency stop for that ride will stop it but inetia keeps the cars spinning until they slow to a stop.

Belfiore had also said that some riders told investigators that Garin had yelled to the operator to start the ride. I myself feel that if Garin was on the ride in anyway, riders may have misunderstood a yell to not start the ride, something I am led to believe she would have said rather than start it if she was in danger.

Update: posted: July 14

For another of my posts regarding the accident and a picture of Kaitlyn, go here.

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