Investigation into roller coaster death expected to take months

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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The woman killed Friday after being tossed from a roller coaster at Six Flags over Texas died of multiple traumatic injuries, the Tarrant County medical examiner's website announced Monday.

The victim was identified as Rosa Ayala-Goana, 52, of Dallas. Prior reports identified her as Rosy Esparza. Her death occurred on a roller coaster track, the medical examiner said.

Investigation of the death, which was ruled an accident, could take months, an expert on amusement ride safety says. The lack of amusement park safety investigators, plus sifting through thousands of documents and interviewing hundreds of witnesses, will likely cause the investigation to drag on for months, said Ken Martin of KRM Consulting in Richmond, Va.

Although Texas has no regulatory agency for amusement parks, Mr. Martin said standards are set by the American Society of Testing and Materials International.

Jerry Hagins, an official of the Texas Insurance Department in Austin, the agency responsible for ensuring that amusement rides are inspected, said Sunday that it won't take long to determine whether a mechanical problem was to blame.

Once a mechanical problem is ruled out, the inquiry would turn to actions by employees operating the ride, Mr. Martin said.

Other determinations will take longer. "There could be some legal ramifications, and that could cause a lengthy investigation," Mr. Hagins said.

The woman was killed when she fell from the Texas Giant roller coaster. Local media outlets said it was the woman's first trip to the amusement park. She had celebrated a birthday June 28.

Carment Brown of Arlington, Texas, who was a rider Friday on the Texas Giant, said she watched the woman ask one of the Six Flags ride attendants to make sure that she was correctly fastened in her seat, because her lap bar did not click more than once.

"Everybody else is like 'Click, click, click,' " Ms. Brown told The Dallas Morning News. "Hers only clicked once. Hers was the only one that went down once, and she didn't feel safe, but they let her still get on the ride."

Other witnesses said the woman "basically tumbled over," perhaps when the ride made a sudden turn. Arlington police Sgt. Christopher Cook said Saturday that there did not appear to be any foul play involved.

The ride will remain closed pending the outcome of a re-inspection, Mr. Hagins said Sunday. He said the inspection sticker for the Texas Giant had been good through February 2014. "I can assure you that we will be monitoring to prove it passes an inspection," he said, but noted that his agency will not be conducting the investigation. Officials said insurance investigators for Six Flags will conduct the investigation.

Mr. Hagins said his agency ensures that ride operators in the state have $1 million insurance policies, and that amusement rides in Texas are inspected annually. He said the amusement park inspects every ride daily, and logs are kept of results. He said the logs would have to be made available to law enforcement if requested.

Six Flags spokeswoman Sharon Parker declined to comment on a report that the roller coaster had been checked Friday before the accident, which occurred shortly after 6:30 p.m.

"We are committed to determine the cause of this tragic accident and will utilize every resource throughout this process," she said. "It would be a disservice to the family to speculate regarding what transpired. When we have new information to provide, we will do so. Our thoughts, prayers and full support remain with the family."

The Texas Giant has had 12 reported injuries dating from April 2008, according to the state Insurance Department. In July 2012, a 46-year-old woman was "jostled" by the roller coaster and suffered a left arm bruise, and a 28-year-old man tripped and cut a big toe. Two 2011 accidents occurred before patrons had boarded the ride. The other eight suffered contusions, strains, back pains, possible fractured ribs and a concussion, the statistics show.



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