DENVER (AP) — On her family's first trip since the pandemic began, 6-year-old Wongel Estifanos got on a vertical drop ride at a Colorado amusement park with her uncle, aunt and cousins last month.
When the floor pulled away from beneath them, everyone else fell in their seats down a 110-foot (34-meter) underground shaft. But Wongel, who was not strapped to her seat, plunged to her death, according to a lawsuit filed by her parents against the park Wednesday.
After the ride stopped at the bottom, Wongel's uncle looked to see if she had enjoyed it and was horrified to see she was not in her seat. Instead he saw her battered body at the bottom of the shaft.
“As Wongel’s uncle and other relatives on the ride screamed in horror and tried to get out of the ride to run to Wongel, the ride would not release them, and pulled them 110 feet back up to the top of the mine shaft,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit alleges that Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park recklessly caused the girl’s Sept. 5 death by failing to train operators of the Haunted Mine Drop ride despite previous problems with its seat belts.
State investigators concluded that Wongel’s death was the result of multiple operator errors. The girl was sitting on top of two seat belts instead of wearing them across her lap, and two newly hired operators never noticed despite doing checks, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment released last month.
Investigators also found that an alarm system warned of a problem, but one of the workers reset it and started the ride because they weren’t trained well enough to know what to do about it, the report said.
The lawsuit sites the findings of the investigation and alleges that the park failed to turn over two previous complaints about passengers not being initially strapped into the ride, from 2018 and 2019, according to state investigators.
In a statement, park officials said they could not comment on pending litigation but extended their condolences to Wongel's family. “Our hearts go out to the Estifanos family and those impacted by their loss,” it said.
Wongel’s parents, Estifanos Dagne and Rahel Estifanos, are suing so that they and the public can learn the full truth about what happened, their lawyer, Dan Caplis, said in a statement.
“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,” he said.
Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press