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Collection of Hawk Posts (Rockin' Raceway, Pigeon Forge, TN) · Aug 26, 10:29 AM

This will contain all of my posts about the March 2004 death on the Hawk (Zamperla Hawk 24) ride at Rockin’ Raceway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. They’re in chronological order, and I’ve tried to update the internal links but not change other materials. I’ve dated this post on the date of the last post included below.

9/30/2004

The manager of the now-closed (but for the arcade) “Rocking Raceway” amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, was indicted on second-degree homicide charges in the death of a woman riding “The Hawk” at that park in March of this year.

The Hawk is a flat ride by Zamperla. Evidently the woman’s restraint came loose when the ride was at the top of the cycle and she fell sixty feet to her death.


Unconfirmed reports indicate that a similar incident may have occurred a year earlier, and that it is possible that a safety system had been bypassed allowing the ride to operate even when not all restraints were in place.


The park closed all rides not long after the death.

10/13/04

The family of June Carol Alexander, who was killed after falling from the Zamperla Hawk at Rockin’ Raceway, filed lawsuits against the park last week.

According to allegations in both the civil suit and the criminal indigtment related to the death, key safety devices were bypassed, allowing the ride to operate without restraints properly in place.


I’m hoping to get the complaint in the litigation, so if you either know who’s representing the plaintiff or have easy access to the docket in the relevant district court, let me know.

11/18/04

I have obtained the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s report on the Hawk fatality in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The report can be found in the Downloads Section.


Both criminal and civil complaints have been brought in the matter, in which a passenger fell sixty feet from the ride. Allegations have been made indicating that the safety systems may have been bypassed, and the CPSC report confirms that, noting that “alligator clips had been used inside the electrical panel to bypass the ride[’]s safety systems.” The report specifically notes as potential reasons for the death the “intentional destruction” of the safety systems, inadequate or inappropriate training of the ride operator, and the violation of various standards.


The document includes the report of the investigator individually, who notes intentional cuts in the insulation of the ride’s wires along with jumper wires connecting some of those wires.


The report also indicates that the operator “began hitting buttons to try and stop the ride” when the passengers began to yell that the victim’s restraints was unlocked. The ride operator also apparently stated that he checked each restraint’s locking mechanism by pulling on them.


Note that some pages of the report appear to be out of order; I have scanned it as I received it. The lower page numbers in the upper corner may indicate the correct pagination. Note also that there are certain parts of the report, especially the police report, that are unpleasant to read.

5/12/05

The trial of the Rockin’ Raceway manager charged with second-degree murder began with jury selection yesterday and with what I take was voir dire of some witnesses (outside the presence of the jury), presumably to deal with motions in limine.

According to the story, there were in fact two prior incidents in which restraints failed, though neither rider fell. I believe at least one earlier story had indicated that in one of the incidents, the ride was e-stopped before it went through its full cycle. One of the people whose restraint failed testified yesterday that he told the manager (and current defendant), Charles Martin, directly.


Also in yesterday’s testimony, Ed Pribonic (owner of Magnetar, about which I’ve written previously) testified regarding his inspection of the ride and his conclusion that the safety system was intentionally destroyed. For more on that, see the CPSC report showing intentional bypassing of the electronic safety system, thus allowing the ride to operate without the restraints engaged—as happened here.


On a related note, I observe that International Theme Park Services has started a blog, and Dennis Spiegel has written about this very story, concluding that “Murder charge for an issue of this nature is unwarranted, fines, closure until all facts are known.. Yes.”


I welcome the blog, and expect to read it regularly, but I think it’s wrong to describe the second-degree murder charges as unwarranted.


Second-degree murder in Tennessee carries jury instructions something along these lines:



Any person who commits second degree murder is guilty of a crime.


For you to find the defendant guilty of this offense, the state must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the following essential elements:


(1) that the defendant unlawfully killed the alleged victim; and


(2) that the defendant acted knowingly.


“Knowingly” means that a person acts with an awareness that [his] [her] conduct is reasonably certain to cause the death of the alleged victim.


The requirement of “knowingly” is also established if it is shown that the defendant acted “intentionally.”


“Intentionally” means that a person acts intentionally when it is the person’s conscious objective or desire to cause the death of the alleged victim.

State v. Page, 81 S.W.3d 781, 788 (Tenn. 2002).


Certainly it’s a jury issue, but it’s quite easy for me to look at this conduct, assuming the state proves the case above, and consider it sufficient to justify a second-degree murder charge. Again assuming the proof is there, a fatality was a matter of when, not if, and the prior reports of restraint failure are plenty of notice to satisfy me—put another way, given the state of the ride (and the nature of the ride), a jury could conclude that a fatality was reasonably certain to occur. It’s quite possible to reach a different conclusion—say, manslaughter, reckless homicide, or criminally negligent homicide—and I wouldn’t be surprised if the jury came back with one of those lesser included offenses instead. But second-degree murder is plainly a reasonable charging decision on these facts.


I do agree with Mr. Spiegel that going to amusement parks is, generally, a very safe activity, and that parks as a whole do a good job with keeping their rides safe. But these charges appear well-justified and proper to bring before a jury.

5/12/05

This story (free registration required, or try BugMeNot.com) has pretty good coverage of the pretrial rulings.

Turns out one of the prior riders who had experienced a restraint failure will be allowed to testify, though it turns out he’s wrong about having reported it to the defendant (who was out of town). But it looks like the testimony will indicate that the defendant was informed of the incident, as the ride was shut down until his return. The other person who alleged that the restraint failed whle he was riding will not be testifying; he never reported it to the police.


Also, Ed Pribonic will be allowed to testify as a prosecution expert—he’s who will describe the jumper wires that evidently bypassed the safety system.


From what little I’ve picked up about the background, the rulings seem pretty safe, and the prosecution’s case still sounds reasonably solid, at least for a lesser-included offense and quite possibly for the primary charge of second-degree murder.


I understand it’s on Court TV but we’re cheap and only have locals-only cable right now. So I’m stuck with online sources between grading exams…so anyone who wants to tell me anything about the actual in-court action, feel free (wchilds AT law DOT wnec DOT edu).

5/12/05

This is at least third-hand (maybe I should get cable again), but it sounds like the main defense theory in the Hawk case is that the jumper wires in question were put in place at installation time, presumably by Zamperla reps, in response to alarms, sirens, etc., going off without explanation.

This theory, if believed, makes the prior incident much more important for the prosecution. If in fact the defendant was informed of the incident and left the ride operating as-is, that’s problematic for the defense…though it still may not rise to the “knowing” level required. As I said before, perhaps a lesser-included offense is in the cards, and that’s especially true if the jury believes that the jumper wires were put in by someone other than the defendant.


This installation of the Hawk (which was a Hawk 24) was indeed an early one and one of the very few portables. (According to FlatRides.com, it was not road legal in the U.S.) It may well have been, as the defense apparently contends, the prototype. If I were in the civil case (or the criminal one, for that matter), I’d sure be interested to know how the relays and such on this installation compare to other Hawks of both models.


Zamperla noted in an early story, as I recall, that it hadn’t issued any service bulletins as a result of looking at this installation after the accident—suggesting that they found nothing wrong with the design as such.


But if there’s credible evidence that the installation was tampered with by a Zamperla tech, the civil suit against Zamperla starts to make some more sense, as before it seemed a bit stretched (if understandable, given the depth of pockets in play).


At this point, of course, all we have are (third-hand) hints in a criminal case, and it’s worth emphasizing that the defense doesn’t have a burden to show anything—so it may well be that all we get are hints and allegations, and that discovery in the civil case won’t reveal much of anything. But it certainly will be interesting…


[Note: One story summarizing testimony today is here.]

5/13/05

Summary here.


Sounds like his testimony doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it puts it in front of the jury. And the defense, from this summary anyway, didn’t seem to have much intention to question his testimony (which sounds largely factual and to cover topics on which the parties agree). The best they could do was to point out that he belongs to an industry group to which Zamperla also belongs, which is hardly astonishing, and is presumably being mentioned as part of the Zamperla-did-it theme as much as to actually suggest any bias on Pribonic’s part.


Again, the key issue is who put those jumpers on and for what reason. Hard to say at this point how that’ll be shown.

5/13/05

Again, I direct you to RideAccidents.com. Briefly, a Zamperla tech says that he put a “temporary coupler” (which he admitted was non-standard) on the system in 2000 and shipped a replacement one immediately thereafter, but that when he returned to examine the Hawk last year (after the accident) he found that the coupler was still in place. I think, but am not at all sure, that the “coupler” is the jumper wire that’s at the center of the case. I’ll update when I find out. [Update: I was wrong. The coupler is different (and not apparently directly related to this incident), and the evidence relating to it was presumably just to show sloppiness by Zamperla Martin. {Yet another edit there—just a typo—the idea of this testimony was to show that the defendant didn’t bother to install the coupler the tech had given him four years prior. So the next paragraph below—ignore it.]


So now we apparently know who put the coupler in place, and the question becomes whether the failure to follow the (alleged) direction to install the new coupler satisfies the “knowing” intent requirement for second-degree murder.


Another update: The Zamperla tech on cross admitted some flaws in the owners manual in connection with the bypassing of a gate safety switch (which Zamperla had bypassed at the factory, because such switches are apparently not used in the US). So Zamperla did bypass a safety feature, albeit one that’s evidently not required here and that wasn’t in issue in this incident. [Edit: “Bypass” isn’t quite the right term, according to a source. There were no gate sensors installed at all—it’s an option—so there were no gate sensors to bypass.]


5/15/05

Just got back from a day at Coney Island, so I haven’t really looked over the summaries of Martin’s testimony much, but today’s post here is certainly interesting:



I was called as an alternate juror for this trial, but I got off because of jurors being sequestered. I have been wondering who else had access to the ride manual particularly the ride operators. I have been wanting to hear from the ride operators that were running the rides when the one fall and two other almost falls occured. Yesterday the prosecution brought in one operator. Not the one who was operating the ride at the time of the fall and almost falls. I read in the paper today that IT WAS THE SAME OPERATOR at the time of the fall and one of the two other falls. I am very curious to know if he was present at the third incident as well. How hard would it be for a teenager or one of his buddies to find the wiriing diagram of the hawk ride. My keyboard doesn’t type question marks. I am now suspecting that the operator may have connected the wires at the beginning of his shift and disconnected them at the end of his shift. He or one of his buddies who came to ride could have initially rigged it. The manager said he wasn’t in that box much. I don’t think he did it now. That is my opinion as of today.

5/16/05

According to several stories including this one and the continuing posts at RideAccidents.com, two defense experts testified that the Zamperla Hawk was defectively designed, and that, because of that design, the safety system was likely bypassed at the factory. Specifically, they said that the wiring of the ride was such that it couldn’t operate without the bypass wire, and so the restraint check switch was never functional. (RideAccidents.com and others also have coverage of the defendant’s testimony; he didn’t say anything particularly surprising, so far as I can tell.)


I admit to having difficulty believing that a company with as much experience as Zamperla would make that sort of mistake, and even if they did, it’s even harder to believe that the company would leave such a key system bypassed. There’s virtually no upside for them and no end of downside. (That’s true for Martin, too, but one might assume that an experienced company would recognize the risks more clearly than an individual.)


But it may well be enough to convince a jury that the prosecution hasn’t proved the case beyond a reasonable doubt—or at least enough to get the jury to settle on a lesser-included offense.


I’m off to Chicago for a couple of days so I may not be posting much.


5/16/05

Martin Guilty of Reckless Homicide.
So CourtTV reports.

5/17/05>

So, why did it end up as reckless homicide? Two general thoughts.

The first issue is why it wasn’t the greater charge of second-degree murder. That seems likely to have been the defense’s succcessful pointing at others having access to the panel and the story of the ride as having trouble in general. I think a jury could reasonably conclude that someone else may well have put the jumper in place but that Martin was reckless in failing to see and investigate the jumper, or, alternatively, that he put it there but didn’t fully appreciate the danger created due to the alleged lack of a complete manual.


But why not acquittal? Lots of observers thought that might be coming, and even the victim’s son said he wasn’t sure he’d vote to convict.


I think the defense experts may have overreached in arguing that the ride could not have operated without the jumper in place. The evidence indicated that the ride had in fact operated evidently without it, as ride operators testified that the ride would stop working due to restraints not being in place—and if the jumper was in place, that wouldn’t have happened, so that is pretty solid evidence that in fact the jumper was not required for the ride to operate. If the jury concluded that those experts were overreaching in those statements, they’re likely to have considered the defense testimony more generally to be lacking in credibility.


Regardless, the civil case against Zamperla is at least more interesting now than it was before.

5/17/05

Juror interview is here. Seems to match up with my thoughts on the jury’s thinking.

7/26/05

I don’t have the sense if it’s unusual for the charge for which he was convicted, but Charles Martin was sentenced to probation in the Hawk death at Rockin’ Raceway.


I’ll eventually try to look to see if jail time is common in Tennessee. I suspect the sentence reflects some hesitation by the judge on whether the evidence fully supported a conclusion that Martin in fact placed the jumpers there, or instead simply should have been aware of them. (The judge refused a motion for acquittal or new trial, so I expect he agrees with the jury that Martin did something wrong.)

8/26/05

The family of Carol Sevier, killed on the Hawk (Zamperla) at Rockin’ Raceway, has settled their lawsuit against the park owner. Their products liability suit against Zamperla remains active. I’ve written fairly extensively about the case (especially about the criminal trial last spring); search for “Hawk” in the search box and you should find most everything.

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