Family of Wongel Estifanos files wrongful death lawsuit against Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

October 20, 2021
The closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon has been hurting businesses in nearby Glenwood Springs. At Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, attendance dropped about 50 after mudslides blocked the road Thursday night.The closure of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon has been hurting businesses in nearby Glenwood Springs. At Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, attendance dropped about 50 after mudslides blocked the road Thursday night.Stina Sieg/CPR News
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs in August.

The family of a 6-year-old girl who fell 110 feet to her death on a drop ride has sued Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Wongel Estifanos died due to “extreme recklessness” by the Glenwood Springs park after workers failed to notice that she was not wearing the seatbelts meant to restrain riders. 

“They’re just crushed,” said lawyer Dan Caplis, who’s representing the girl’s parents, Estifanos Dagne and Rahel Estifanos, “and they're just determined to make sure this never happens to another family.”

The family was visiting from Colorado Springs on Labor Day weekend when Estifanos died. According to the lawsuit, she boarded the Haunted Mine Drop with her uncle, his small children and other family members, while her parents waited outside with her 2-year-old brother.  

Estifanos should have been secured by two seatbelts, as the ride did not have shoulder harnesses (according to the Denver Post, the ride’s designer said in a 2017 TV interview that the lack of harnesses made it “a little bit more scary.”). However, Estifanos was sitting on top of both the belts, which were locked underneath her.

Investigators from the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety, the entity charged with regulating amusement parks, found that the ride’s operators failed to notice that she was unrestrained, and instead thought the tail of one of the seatbelts was actually secured around her. 

As one of the workers tightened the seat belts, the tail pulled out of Estifanos’ hands, which the worker also did not notice. A warning light came on to alert the operators to an issue in Estifanos’ seat, but they dispatched the ride anyway. 

The lawsuit says that when the ride came to a stop at the bottom of the replica mine shaft, Estifanos’ uncle looked over to see if she’d enjoyed herself. Instead, he saw an empty seat. 

Then the family realized her body was there, near them, at the bottom of the shaft. 

“As Wongel’s uncle and other relatives on the ride screamed in horror and tried to get out of the ride to run to Wongel, the ride would not release them, and pulled them 110 feet back up to the top of the mine shaft,” the lawsuit says. 

This was not the first time workers had failed to put restraints on Haunted Mine Drop riders, the lawsuit says. It states that two times, in 2018 and 2019, workers were about to dispatch the ride with an unrestrained person on board, but were alerted in time by frantic riders. 

One of those instances only came to light after Wongel’s death, after an unnamed guest followed up on a two-year-old email that park staff said was lost in their email system. 

In August 2019, the guest wrote the park after they said they had to alert employees they were not buckled into the ride and that, as in Estifanos’ case, their seatbelts were locked underneath them. They wrote that they had to convince the ride’s operators to buckle them in, and that at first an employee “disputed” they were unrestrained. 

“I urge you to look into this, otherwise you could have customers who will get seriously injured or even worse, dead,” the passenger wrote.

The lawsuit alleges that the park failed to properly train workers how to operate the ride and that neither Estifanos herself nor her parents were negligent in her death.

Over email, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park said it’s aware of the suit but that it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.

“Our hearts go out to the Estifanos family and those impacted by their loss,” the email said.

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