ALTOONA, Iowa – A regulator on Tuesday ordered an Iowa amusement park not to restart a popular boat ride pending an investigation into an accident that killed an 11-year-old boy and left his brother in critical condition.
Iowa Labor Commissioner Rod Roberts signed an order barring Adventureland Park from operating the Raging River until an investigation by his office is complete and all hazards are corrected, a spokeswoman said.
Adventureland, based near Des Moines in Altoona, voluntarily stopped operating the ride after Saturday night’s accident in which a boat carrying six members of a family flipped over. The park remains open.
Michael Jaramillo died Sunday from his injuries, and ABC’s “Good Morning America” reported Tuesday that his teenage brother, David Jr., was hospitalized in a medically induced coma. Another teenage brother has been released from the hospital.
Their father, David Jaramillo, was also injured. He recounted what happened when the boat capsized in an interview broadcast Tuesday.
“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.”
Mother Sabrina Jaramillo added, “I feel like Adventureland robbed me of my baby. I will never get a chance to see him grow up.”
The boat was carrying the five Jaramillos and an 18-year-old female relative, according to a police report released Tuesday. All have addresses in Cedar Rapids or the suburb of Marion.
Ryan Best, an attorney for the family, said they were at the park to celebrate David Jr.'s birthday.
“What should have been a fun day for the family turned into a nightmare when the family was the victim of a tragic failure by Adventureland to provide for their safety on the Raging River ride and failure to timely respond during the incident,” he said.
He said the family was focused on David Jr.'s medical care while grieving Michael's death, and “would ask that you keep them in their prayers.”
The cause of the accident is under investigation but it “does not appear to be criminal in nature,” Altoona police spokeswoman Lt. Alyssa Wilson said.
An Adventureland employee was also killed in an accident involving the ride in 2016.
The U.S. 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 Iowa Division of Labor, which regulates amusement rides, released documents showing the Raging River had passed its last five annual inspections since 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.
Adventureland attorney Guy Cook said the family-owned park halted the ride after the accident to conduct a “comprehensive analysis” and agreed to the commissioner’s order not to restart it for now. He said the accident marked the first death of an Adventureland guest in its 47-year history.
“Safety is the bedrock of the park operations. No ride is put in operation unless it is safe,” he said.
State inspectors were on site Tuesday as their investigation continued.
The widow of the 68-year-old Adventureland seasonal employee who died on the ride in June 2016 due to an operator’s errors said her heart breaks for the Jaramillo family.
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 didn't improve responders' access before Saturday's accident.
Cook said off-duty responders were at Adventureland on Saturday and conducted CPR and other life-saving measures almost immediately. He acknowledged that it took longer for outside responders to access the area and get them transported to the hospital.
In Steve Booher's case, he was working as a loading assistant getting riders out of a boat when an 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 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 to stop.
Gladys Booher, a retired teacher, 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.
Adventureland advertises the Raging River, which dates to 1983, as a “great way to cool off with the whole family."
“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.”