116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The father of an 11-year-old boy who died following an accident on a popular boat ride at an Iowa amusement park said that his son and other family members were trapped by the ride’s seat belts when the boat carrying them flipped.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America," David Jaramillo recounted what happened when the boat capsized Saturday night on the Raging River at Adventureland Park in Altoona.
Good Morning America interview with the Jaramillos
"When it flipped over, all of us were trapped in the safety seat belts," he said. "I see the silhouettes of my sons trying to grab each other, grab us. They want us to help them. We couldn't do it."
Michael Jaramillo died Sunday from his injuries, and the morning news program reported that his older brother was hospitalized in critical condition in a medically-induced coma. Two other riders who were also family members suffered injuries.
"I feel like Adventureland robbed me of my baby," said Sabrina Jaramillo, Michael's mother. "I will never get a chance to see him grow up."
Investigators have not released a hometown for the Jaramillos, but court documents from earlier this year list a Cedar Rapids address.
The ride uses a conveyor belt to move large circular rafts through rapids. After the boat carrying six people overturned, emergency responders and witnesses helped to free the riders.
The cause of the accident - the second deadly incident on the ride in five years - is under investigation. A representative from the Polk County Medical Examiner's office said Tuesday that Michael Jaramillo's autopsy was still underway.
Nationally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is only aware of 17 deaths associated with amusement attractions since 2016, agency spokeswoman Patty Davis said Tuesday. Injuries that require emergency room visits are far more common, averaging 34,700 per year from 2017 to 2019 before plummeting during last summer's coronavirus-related park closures, she said.
Adventureland said the ride has been closed since the accident and that the family-owned park is cooperating with an investigation by state inspectors.
"Safety is the number one priority at Adventureland," Adventureland attorney Guy Cook said. "The Raging River ride has been in operation for nearly four decades. It is a safe ride."
The ride opened for the first time this season Saturday after a state inspection a day earlier found it was in sound working order, Adventureland said.
The widow of a 68-year-old Adventureland seasonal employee who died on the ride in June 2016 due to an operator's errors said Tuesday her heart breaks for the Jaramillo family, and that their lives will never be the same.
Gladys Booher said the ride's location far from park entrances slowed the emergency response when her husband, Steve, was critically injured. She said she's angry that Adventureland hasn't fixed that problem, after fire officials noted it was difficult to reach those injured Saturday.
"I just wish that Adventureland would take it more seriously," she said. "It's just not people walking through the gates to purchase a ticket. They are actually entrusting that park with their lives and their safety, expecting that to be a safe place to take their families and work."
In his sixth day on the job, Steve Booher was working as a loading assistant getting riders out of a boat when the operator started moving the ride unexpectedly. He was jerked off his feet, fell and hit his head and was trapped between a boat and a concrete sidewall as the ride continued.
Booher's head was rammed against the wall several times before the ride stopped, and he died of brain and skull trauma days later.
Adventureland's insurer in December agreed to pay a confidential sum to the Booher family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit before a trial. The lawsuit alleged the operator was negligent by prematurely starting the ride in violation of park rules and leaving it in operation even as Booher was injured and patrons yelled at him to stop.
Gladys Booher, a retired teacher and pastor, said Adventureland's lawyers wanted a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent her from speaking about the tragedy, but that she refused.
"It's one of those things you look back and say, 'God knew what he was doing,'" she said. "I was going to have to be able to speak out for this family and other families who unfortunately had to experience the same thing."
The Raging River has been a staple of the park since 1983. Adventureland advertises the ride as a "great way to cool off with the whole family," warning participants may get soaked. The park, which is located just east of Des Moines, expects around 600,000 visitors this year.
"They're saying it's a safe ride but you've had two people die in five years. How safe is that?" said attorney Fred Dorr, who represented the Booher family. "You can try to explain it away, but that's an issue."