No charges filed in little girl’s theme park death

Posted at 6:42 PM, February 3, 2022 and last updated 12:41 AM, December 13, 2022

By: KMGH Staff

DENVER (KMGH) — No criminal charges will be filed following an investigation into the death of a six-year-old girl who died at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The heartbroken family of Wongel Estifanos, who fell 110 feet and died on a ride in September of 2021, said the “criminal system failed our daughter.”

Wongel Estifanos and her parents, Estifanos Dagne and Rahel Estifanos (Family photo/Dan Caplis Law Firm)

In a formal charging decision letter signed Jan. 25, Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jefferson J. Cheney said that the only potential crimes committed would be criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter. However, his office determined it “cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt any one person or entity acted with criminal negligence or was criminally reckless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

According to an accident investigation report, the state determined that the two operators of the ride, who had not been trained to identify an error related to the ride’s seat belts, failed to put on and secure the girl’s seat belt before launching the ride that day.

The parents issued a statement that says their daughter’s life has been treated as “cheap and meaningless” by the amusement park and district attorney.

FILE – The Haunted Mine Drop is shown in this July 2017 file photo at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colo. The parents of a 6-year-old Colorado girl who fell 110 feet to her death on the theme park ride after not being buckled in are suing the park. The lawsuit filed Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, alleges Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park recklessly caused her death by failing to train the ride’s operators despite previous problems with its seat belts. (Chelsea Self/Glenwood Springs Post Independent via AP, File)

“We never wanted the people who killed our daughter to go to jail. But for the DA to let them off with nothing says our daughter’s life was worth nothing. Justice should be equal,” the statement says. “Our little girl should matter as much as a big corporation. What a terrible message to send.”

The family’s attorney, Dan Caplis, said the decision to not file any charges undermines public safety.

“Simply filing the charges that are appropriate when somebody recklessly kills their daughter helps protect others,” he said. “And the opposite of that is true: the parents say when you don’t file criminal charges when somebody recklessly kills their daughter at an amusement park, what does that do to public safety?”

Caplis said the family has not heard from the park about any proposed changes or improvements.

According to the state’s accident investigation report, the girl’s death was the result of “multiple operator errors, specifically failure to ensure proper utilization of the passenger restraint system (seat belts), and a lack of understanding and resolution of the Human Machine Interface screen error conditions on the control panel.” Inadequate training was also to blame, the report said.

Following the incident, the ride was shut down and the girl’s body was recovered. The amusement park closed for several days.

Attorneys for the girl’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the park in October.

This story was originally published Feb. 3, 2022 by KMGH-TV in Denver, an E.W. Scripps Company.