116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Adventureland Park was negligent when a water raft last year flipped over and killed an 11-year-old boy and seriously injured his 15-year old brother, the sons’ Cedar Rapids parents asserted in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Thursday.
David Sr. and Sabrina Jaramillo, formerly of Marion, repeatedly screamed, “Please help me — my kids are dying” and prayed as their children were trapped underwater when a 1,700-pound raft suddenly flipped the entire family underwater on July 3, 2021, according to a 55-page lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court.
Michael, 11, and David Jr., 15, remained trapped underwater for more than five minutes as rescue attempts by the injured parents, David Sr., who shattered his shoulder, and Sabrina, after they escaped, were unsuccessful, the suit states.
Adventureland continued to operate the Raging River ride despite the parents screaming and the overturned raft, forcing “thousands of pounds” of water down the river and releasing additional rafts as the children remained trapped underwater, according to the suit.
People nearby who heard the Jaramillos screaming came to help the family and eventually pulled the two boys from underwater — including a woman in a passing raft who jumped to assist. Nobody from Adventureland came to help, the lawsuit contends.
The suit states the Altoona amusement park has failed to properly maintain and repair its attractions, including the Raging River ride, for years. The ride continued to operate that day despite there having been serious problems with rafts striking the bottom of the ride, air bladders within the rafts deflating and mechanical equipment failures, according to the suit.
Multiple rafts had been pulled out of service that same day for repairs, but they were placed back into rotation without proper testing, including the Jaramillo’s raft, the lawsuit asserts.
The Amusement Ride Safety Division for the state investigated the incident and determined the ride “poses an imminent danger to public health, safety, or welfare,” according to the suit. The division issued a “safety order” finding 17 different safety violations by Adventureland during its operation of the Raging River ride.
David Jr. turned 16 while in a medically induced coma after the raft trauma and Michael was pronounced dead July 4, 2021, from “freshwater drowning,” the suit states.
At the time of his death, Michael enjoyed playing the violin, reading the Bible and spending time with his family. Michael’s parents described him as a “teddy bear,” the suit states. He was generous and kind, and his family now lives with the “nightmare of the loss” of their beloved child and brother.
Guy Cook, the Des Moines lawyer for Adventureland, told The Gazette on Thursday the claims of the lawsuit will be specifically addressed in future court filings.
“For nearly 40 years each park ride, including the Raging River ride, have undergone annual safety inspections by state of Iowa inspectors and detailed daily inspections by park maintenance and ride operators,” Cook said. “Sadly, the tragic accident of July 3, 2021, was the result of a number of extraordinarily unusual factors coming together.”
Safety is and always has been the No. 1 priority at Adventureland, Cook said.
The suit also said that Michael J. Krantz, Tim Heger, Todd Kurovski and Zack Peiper were officers or managers of Adventureland at the time of the accident who contributed to the incident. The suit claims other employees were not properly trained and the ride was not maintained.
The park has since been sold. Bill Lentz, general manager for the new owner, said in April that ride wouldn’t be in operation when the park opened and officials haven’t determined if will ever reopen, the Des Moines Register reported. He isn’t named in the suit.
History of ride
The Raging River ride opened in 1983. It seats up to six people in a large, circular raft designed to provide the experience of white-water rafting. An artificial current propels the rafts through a human-made waterway with rapids created by circulation pumps and underwater structures, the suit states.
The ride originally was designed and manufactured by Intamin Inc. and didn’t have steel plates on the bottom of the rafts. But Adventureland modified the ride, using incorrect replacement parts and installed the steel plates. According to Intamin, rafts shouldn’t be used more than 10 years. Adventureland has never has replaced them, the suit said.
According to the director of ride maintenance, the Raging River ride had “computer issues” and was shut down for 2020, except for two weeks. It was determined the ride’s original control panel from the early 1980s needed to be replaced.
Another company was hired to design and program the new control panel and it was installed in winter 2020 or spring 2021, according to the suit. The company attempted to train managers on how to use it, but didn’t train the employees who operate the ride daily, and the maintenance employees were not capable of programming the control panel’s software, the suit states.
The Iowa Division of Labor Amusement Ride Safety Division said the ride was inspected by Bruno Burriola on April 12, 2021, but the inspection wasn’t documented, according to the suit. Burriola’s son started working at the park in 2018, the suit notes.
Burriola then conducted a physical inspection of the rafts on June 2, 2021, according to the division, but again there is no documentation, the suit contends. On July 2, 2021, the division said Burriola inspected the ride’s newly installed control system, the operation of the ride and visually inspected the rafts and gave a passing inspection in a one-page report.
The ride required a passing inspection before it could open — which it did the next day when the Jaramillo family visited the park.
The ride, which was a main attraction and “highly important” to the park on a holiday weekend, was opened but there were multiple equipment failures, according to the suit. The water pumps were not functioning properly due to electrical issues, according to park maintenance employees, the suit states. The pumps were experiencing water surges that caused the new control panel to place the ride in “safe mode,” turning off the pumps. They eventually hooked up the ride to an external power source the morning of July 3, 2021, that bypassed the regular system.
The ride didn’t open until between noon and 1:30 p.m. that day, and the regular maintenance checklist wasn’t completed for the ride, which is violation of the park’s own safety procedures, the suit said.
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