The father of an 11-year-old boy who died following an accident on a popular boat ride at an Iowa amusement park said his son and other family members were trapped by the ride’s seat belts when the boat carrying them flipped.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” David Jaramillo recounted what happened when the boat capsized Saturday night on the Raging River at Adventureland Park in Altoona.
“When it flipped over, all of us were trapped in the safety seat belts,” he said. “I see the silhouettes of my sons trying to grab each other, grab us. They want us to help them. We couldn’t do it.”
Michael Jaramillo died Sunday from his injuries, and the morning news program reported that his older brother was hospitalized in critical condition in a medically induced coma.
“I feel like Adventureland robbed me of my baby,” said Sabrina Jaramillo, Michael’s mother. “I will never get a chance to see him grow up.”
David Jaramillo, 43, referred questions to his attorney, Ryan Best of Spokane, Washington, when reached by phone Tuesday. Jaramillo said the family lives in the Cedar Rapids area.
The ride uses a conveyor belt to move large circular rafts through rapids. After the boat carrying six people overturned, emergency responders and witnesses helped to free the riders. Four family members were treated for injuries.
The cause of the accident — the second deadly incident on the ride in five years — is under investigation by state inspectors.
Iowa Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts on Tuesday ordered the ride to cease operations pending the outcome of the investigation and the correction of hazards, a spokeswoman for his office said.
The office released documents showing the ride had passed its last five annual inspections dating back to 2017. The latest inspection was Friday, the day before the ride reopened for the season. The accident happened hours later.
“No code violations noted at this time,” inspector Bruno Burriola wrote, after reviewing everything from its emergency procedures to the seatbelts.
Nationally, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is only aware of 17 deaths associated with amusement attractions since 2016, agency spokeswoman Patty Davis said. Injuries that require emergency room visits are far more common, averaging 34,700 per year from 2017 to 2019 before plummeting during last summer’s coronavirus-related park closures, she said.
The Raging River has been closed since the accident, and Adventureland said it is cooperating with the investigation.
“Safety is the number one priority at Adventureland,” Adventureland attorney Guy Cook said. “The Raging River ride has been in operation for nearly four decades. It is a safe ride.”
The widow of a 68-year-old Adventureland seasonal employee who died on the ride in June 2016 due to an operator’s errors said Tuesday her heart breaks for the Jaramillo family, and that their lives will never be the same.
Gladys Booher said the ride’s location far from park entrances slowed the emergency response when her husband, Steve, was critically injured. She said she’s angry that Adventureland hasn’t fixed that problem, after fire officials noted it was difficult to reach those injured Saturday.
“I just wish that Adventureland would take it more seriously,” she said. “It’s just not people walking through the gates to purchase a ticket. They are actually entrusting that park with their lives and their safety.”
Steve Booher was working as a loading assistant getting riders out of a boat when the operator started moving the ride unexpectedly. Booher was jerked off his feet, fell and hit his head and was trapped between a boat and a concrete sidewall as the ride continued.
Booher’s head was rammed against the wall several times before the ride stopped. He died of brain and skull trauma days later.
Adventureland’s insurer in December agreed to pay a confidential sum to the Booher family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit before a trial. The lawsuit alleged the operator was negligent by prematurely starting the ride in violation of park rules and leaving it in operation even as Booher was injured and patrons yelled at him to stop.
Gladys Booher, a retired teacher and pastor, said Adventureland’s lawyers wanted a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent her from speaking about the tragedy but she refused. She said she’s grateful she can share her story to help the Jaramillo family get justice and try to prevent future accidents.
The Raging River has been a staple of the park since 1983. Adventureland advertises the ride as a “great way to cool off with the whole family,” warning participants may get soaked. The park, which is located just east of Des Moines, expects around 600,000 visitors this year.
“You’ve had two people die in five years. How safe is that?” said attorney Fred Dorr, who represented the Booher family. “You can try to explain it away, but that’s an issue.”
Father recounts Iowa amusement ride accident that killed son