Monday, July 22, 2013

Death at Six Flags

A Dallas woman was killed while riding a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas last Friday evening.

The investigation into the case is ongoing, and I prefer not to jump to any conclusions before all the facts are in, but it sounds like the woman's safety belt was not fastened correctly.

I have rarely been to Six Flags Over Texas — only once, in fact, since the Texas Giant, the ride on which the incident occurred, made its debut — and I do not know what kind of security precautions are in use on that or any other ride today. Seems to me that the last time I was there, people were held in place by some kind of metal bar, but published reports today suggest that something akin to a seat belt is in use now.

A photograph I found on the internet (at right) seems to show some kind of modified bar with some sort of padding around it, perhaps to protect the park goers from the bar.

Maybe there were too many complaints about how hot those bars were in the summertime. I don't know.

What I do know is that witnesses said the woman tried to tell whoever it was who seated her and fastened her safety apparatus that she wasn't secured correctly. The attendant's behavior was described as nonchalant, kind of dismissive.

Reportedly, it was her first trip to Six Flags, but she apparently knew enough about the ride's security features — perhaps from watching others while standing in line — to know that something was not right.

The woman who died was named Rosy Esparza. She lived in Dallas. I don't know how old she was or how many children she had. According to reports, two of her children were on the ride with her, and they were, as you might expect, in hysterics when the ride came to a stop, and they tried frantically to get someone's attention.

By the time their mother was located, it was not possible to resuscitate her — if it ever was. The Texas Giant has been known as the tallest wood–steel hybrid roller coaster in the world, more than 150 feet tall. That's roughly the height of a 14–story building.

It's hard to imagine a height from which a person could be thrown from the ride and be expected to survive.

Ever since I heard about all this, I have been thinking about the last time I went to Six Flags. It was right after I had moved to this area, and some friends of mine came to visit me from Little Rock. One of my friends, Mike, was an absolute nut about roller coasters. The three of us went to Six Flags one day, and Mike made a beeline for the first roller coaster he spotted.

And, I swear, he rode that ride over and over and over again — must have ridden it 10 or 12 times before he had finally had his fill (temporarily). My other friend, Steve, and I sat on a bench near the ride and watched him in utter amazement. After about the third or fourth time, we started joking about Mike and his infatuation with roller coasters.

He wasn't riding the Texas Giant. The Texas Giant didn't exist yet. But I have been thinking of that day so long ago — and wondered what I would have done if I had seen my friend get thrown from a roller coaster.

Roller coasters, of course, appeal to thrill seekers, but always in the backs of their minds is the assurance that roller coasters really are safe, that they are fast and exhilarating but not really dangerous.

For the most part, that's true. Friday's fatality was only the park's second in more than half a century of operation. And the website for the national organization of amusement parks has been running a message reminding people that the chances of anyone being killed while riding a roller coaster are extremely slim.

But, no matter how slim that chance may be, the fact is that there is that chance. It is not impossible, and no one seems to be pretending that it is — unlike the promoters of the Titanic a century ago.

It is my hope, however, that the investigation will be thorough, that no shortcuts will be taken. Public safety should be the top concern — if not the only one.

Certainly, if there was negligence on the part of anyone on Six Flags' staff, it should be uncovered. But that is not the only thing that investigators should seek.

If there is any kind of problem that caused this and can be corrected, it should be identified and corrective measures should be suggested.

Blame is not the only thing that needs to come from this.

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