Lodi skydiving school ordered to pay $40 million over 2016 death
A Merced County family, whose 18-year-old son died in a 2016 parachute accident, was awarded a $40-million judgment this week against the owner of a troubled skydiving school with a history of deaths.
Paul Van Der Walde, the attorney representing the family of Los Banos resident Tyler Turner, said the multimillion-dollar penalty is significant not only because of the amount, but because it specifically targets the owner of the skydiving school Skydivers Guild Inc., Bill Dause.
“We are hoping this will allow us to get this place closed or be sold to a responsible owner who can operate it safely,” Van Der Walde said.
Dause declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying: “We appreciate your call, but no comment.”
Van Der Walde and the Turner family sued Skydivers Guild Inc. and Dause alleging negligence. Tyler Turner and the skydiving instructor he was jumping in tandem with died Aug. 6, 2016, near the skydiving center. Investigators said he plummeted 13,000 feet to the ground when the instructor, who was attached to Tyler by a harness, could not get their parachutes open.
“He [the instructor] was still under a probationary period when they did the jump,” Van Der Walde said. “And he did not have the appropriate emergency training.”
Tyler Turner’s death was one of nearly two dozen fatalities that have happened at the center since 1981, Van Der Walde said.
In the past, Dause would create new operating companies to try and shield himself from tax liabilities and penalties, Van Der Walde said.
In the proposed order signed by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Barbara Kronlund on Monday, it reads: “Following court trial Bill Dause is found to be the alter ego of Skydivers Guild Inc. and is responsible for their entire judgment of $40,030,000.
Tyler Turner’s mother, Francine Salazar Turner, was relieved that nearly five years of litigation are over. She misses her son terribly and wants to use the judgment money to start a scholarship fund in her son’s name. Tyler was a straight-A student at Pacheco High School with a 4.3 grade point average.
“He was an amazing person,” Francine Turner said. “He had an adventurous spirit and wanted to do so much in this world.”
Turner said her son earned a full scholarship to UC Merced, where he planned to focus on biomedical engineering.
She too hopes the skydiving center will be operated by someone other than Dause.
“He showed no compassion whatsoever,” she said. “It was just horrible.”
The Turners are also thankful for the passage in 2017 of Tyler’s Law, which tightened up the regulations for skydiving and sport parachuting operators.
Under that law, the owners and operators of skydiving or sport parachuting operation — to the extent allowed by federal law — have a duty to ensure that the parachutist in command of a tandem jump and the parachute rigger responsible for packing a parachute are in compliance with all federal laws relating to parachute safety and certifications.
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