GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Family of the 6-year-old girl who was killed in a Colorado amusement park ride over Labor Day weekend has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the park.
Wongel Estifanos died after riding the Haunted Mine Drop at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Garfield County. The Haunted Mine Drop is a drop tower-style ride, six passengers drop 110 feet into a dim shaft in the ground. The family is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, and that her death be declared a felony killing.
In the suit filed on Wednesday, the family’s attorney Dan Caplis says gross negligence by Glenwood Caverns caused the death of Estifanos when she got on the Haunted Mine Drop on Sept. 5th.
In a statement, the parents of Wongel say 'their mission is to protect other families by holding all who are responsible for the killing of their daughter fully accountable, and by sending a loud and clear message to the entire amusement park industry.'
Investigators with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment found that Estifanos was not wearing a seatbelt when the operators started the ride, despite warnings from the rides system. OPS determined the employees “were not equipped to operate and dispatch the ride.”
“The wrongful acts causing Wongel’s death constitute a felonious killing because the Defendant recklessly caused Wongel to fall 110 feet to her death,” said Caplis in the lawsuit.
To ride the Haunted Mine Drop, participants must sign a waiver. For individuals younger than 18, a parent or legal guardian must sign for them.
However, The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment's (CDLE) Division of Oil and Public Safety (OPS) said its investigation into what led to the death of 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos of Colorado Springs found multiple errors by ride operators.
OPS says the deadly accident resulted from multiple operator errors; specifically:
- Lack of procedures
- Inadequate training
- More than one operator taking responsibility of a ride during a ride cycle
- The restraint system involved
The lawsuit claims Glenwood Caverns knew its operators were failing to put seatbelts on some of their riders, and the amusement park received two emailed complaints in 2018 and 2019 directly pertaining to these concerns.
In July of 2018, the lawsuit says a mother contacted the park when she brought her 6-year-old on the Haunted Mine Drop. She said the operators left the room to deploy the ride without securing the seatbelts of a teenager on the ride. Then in August of 2019, a rider emailed Glenwood Caverns with further concerns about the operators of the haunted mine drop and safety concerns over seatbelts.
“The operator, who was prepared to launch the Haunted Mine Drop ride with the passenger not buckled in, argued with the passenger and insisted that the passenger was buckled in. The passenger continued to insist that he was not buckled in, and finally, the operator checked further and confirmed that the passenger was not buckled in,” the lawsuit says.
The suit argues these incidents demonstrate "the same reckless failure that later killed Wongel: the failure to place the seatbelts on a rider, and to confirm that the rider was properly restrained before the ride was launched."
Additionally, the suit states that Glenwood Caverns failed to disclose these complaints to state investigators despite being ordered to hand over any complaints pertaining to the Haunted Mine Shaft. The amusement park said they couldn’t hand over these complaints due to an issue with their email system.
In a statement to 13 Investigates, Glenwood Caverns said it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation. However, the amusement parks did say their 'hearts go out to the Estifanos family and those impacted by their loss.'