Deanna Dewberry, NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit
Six Flags Over Texas says it plans to reopen the Texas Giant roller coaster this weekend - nearly two months after a Dallas woman fell to her death on the ride. The announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the woman's family alleging the park ignored the dangers.
Six Flags Over Texas is reopening the Texas Giant this weekend with some additional safety measures, nearly two months after a 52-year-old woman fell to her death while riding the rollercoaster.
Six Flags’ announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed earlier Tuesday by Rosa Esparza’s family, which alleged the park ignored dangers and is seeking at least $1,000,000 in damages.
Esparza, a Dallas resident, was in the third row of the Texas Giant on July 19 and as the cart began the first steep descent, she was ejected from her seat and fell approximately 75 feet, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. The autopsy revealed she died from multiple traumatic injuries from the fall.
In a news release Tuesday, Six Flags said it completed its investigation into the accident and has ruled out any mechanical failure of the ride.
“Due to litigation, the company is not releasing any further information about the outcome of the investigation,” the release read.
Earlier Tuesday, attorney Frank Branson filed a lawsuit in Tarrant County on behalf of Esparza’s family.
“She was a good mom a good wife. Everybody misses her a lot,” Branson told NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit.
The lawsuit detailed the accident and what Esparza’s daughter and son-in-law witnessed.
“Although Rosa Esparza desperately tried to hang on as the roller-coaster car twisted and turned, she was unable to resist the over-powering forces of the roller-coaster ride,” the lawsuit stated.
Yet Esparza’s daughter and son-in-law were forced to complete the ride, not knowing what had happened to her.
“It was just a nightmare. The family is being sold what is a titillating thrill that everybody assumes is safe, and it turned into a reality that was just horrific for every member of the family who was there,” said Branson.
In the lawsuit, Branson said Six Flags knew as early as 1978 after a fatal rollercoaster accident in Los Angeles that safety belts were needed.
"It’s not a first time problem for Six Flags. It’s not a first time problem for the amusement industry, and they seemed to be more involved with providing more thrills than they do safety," said Branson.
Hours after the lawsuit was filed, Six Flags announced that when the Giant reopens it will have overlapping safety measures including re-designed restraint-bar pads from the manufacturer and new seat belts.
The lawsuit also said the park failed "to establish and enforce adequate restrictions for body types and weights of riders."
Forensic engineer Mark Goodson, who testified against Six Flags in an unrelated lawsuit, and other experts told NBC 5 the failure to have weight restrictions could have been a factor in the accident.
“It is not feasible to design a ride that can handle every person,” Goodson said.
Six Flags also addressed that issue.
“As with other rides in the park, guests with unique body shapes or sizes may not fit into the restraint system. The company is providing a coaster seat at the ride entrance so guests can test their fit prior to entering the ride line,” the news release said.
Six Flags would not comment on the lawsuit, but stressed safety is a priority.
“We are heartbroken and will forever feel the pain and sadness of this tragic accident. Our sincerest condolences go out to the family and friends of Ms. Esparza,” said Steve Martindale, park president of Six Flags Over Texas in the release. “The safety of our guests and employees is our company’s absolute highest priority and we try to take every reasonable precaution to eliminate the risk of accidents.”
Branson believes if the park had been pro-active rather than reactive, Esparza would likely be alive today.
“These changes certainly are a step in the right direction. But it’s a shame it took yet another death on yet another Six Flag rollercoaster to prompt Six Flags to make basic safety changes,” he said.