Family Sues Amusement Park Owner Over Death

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The parents of a Fontana woman who died last year after riding a roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia sued the amusement park's corporate owners Wednesday, accusing them of knowingly operating a dangerously violent ride.

A wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court contends that the violent nature of the Goliath roller coaster caused the June 2001 death of Pearl Santos, 28. It also accuses park officials of inadequately warning patrons about the ride's potential lethal hazards.

Park officials "pushed the envelope for thrills to the point that the stresses and forces acting on the human body ... [caused] serious injuries," according to the lawsuit by Santos' parents, Felipe and Juana Santos.

The complaint alleges that the park knew of serious injuries that had occurred to other passengers, but did nothing because the attraction was an enormous money maker.

Company officials said Wednesday that the ride is safe and did not cause the death. They said they were not aware of any other serious injuries or deaths on the ride.

"We've delivered millions of safe rides on the Goliath," said Debbie Nauser, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Inc., which owns the Valencia park and 37 other amusement parks in North America and Europe.

Nauser said Santos had "a preexisting condition, and any medical doctor will tell you [her death] was not caused by a roller coaster."

Santos, an elementary school teacher's aide, was unconscious by the end of her ride on Goliath on June 2, 2001, and she was pronounced dead a short time later.

A Cal/OSHA investigation last year concluded that the Goliath was operating properly and that Santos' fatal injury was the result of a preexisting condition.

An autopsy report by the Los Angeles County coroner's office determined the roller coaster caused the rupture of a preexisting aneurysm--an abnormal dilation of a blood vessel in her brain--and that the stress associated with the roller coaster ride probably was a factor in her death.

Barry Novack, who represents the parents, said the woman's aneurysm was asymptomatic and that she "could have lived to a ripe old age" with her condition, which she did not know about, if not for the roller coaster ride.

Amusement parks have "an obligation to tell the public that they have a risk of serious injury or death, even if the riders feel they are in good health," he said. "These should be thrill rides, not kill rides."

Opened in February 2000, Goliath quickly became one of the park's most popular attractions.

Riders plunge down a 255-feet freefall, whip around a corkscrew, hit speeds of 85 mph and experience more than four times the force of gravity.

Javier Santos said his aunt and uncle were traumatized by their daughter's death.

"Pearl was very vibrant," he said. "She was the apple of her daddy's eye."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
54°