IOWA CITY, Iowa—A woman whose family went on an Iowa amusement ride shortly before an accident that killed an 11-year-old boy and critically injured his brother said Friday her boat also had problems floating properly and felt unsafe.
Amber Estrada, 31, said the boat carrying her and her husband, their three children and nephew at times struck and dragged along the bottom of the manmade river on the Raging River ride at Adventureland Park in Altoona on July 3.
She said the boat made a grinding sound that she could feel under her feet. Estrada, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, said her husband told her that he felt scared and wanted to get off the ride.
The couple made the decision to lean forward in their seats with their children because they were worried it would tip over, she said. They were able to reach the end of the ride safely, but “unfortunately that did happen to another family,” she said.
A boat carrying six members of the Jaramillo family of Marion, Iowa capsized minutes later, trapping 11-year-old Michael Jaramillo and his now 16-year-old brother David in their seatbelts underneath the water for several minutes. Michael died of his injuries the next day.
A funeral service for the boy, who was going into sixth grade, is scheduled for Saturday in Des Moines. His family remembered him in an obituary as a “fun, loving child,” who loved playing with his older brothers, cousins and friends and liked to play the violin and read the bible.
David remains in critical condition at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, unable to talk, family attorney Ryan Best said. Their father, also David Jaramillo, underwent a four-hour surgery Tuesday to repair broken bones in his shoulder, he said.
Iowa inspectors are looking into what caused the boat to flip, and the ride has been shut down until the investigation is complete and hazards are corrected.
A state report dated July 4 said that the Jaramillos’ boat “immediately began taking on water as the ride began” and touched the bottom of the trough multiple times. Inspectors said they saw scrape marks on the trough’s concrete bottom and gouges in wooden poles along the ride from boat contact.
The boat eventually overturned during the ride’s final curve, according to the report, first reported by The Des Moines Register.
Estrada said she saw the Jaramillos in line a few places behind her and witnessed emergency responders rushing to the scene after her family got off. She said she did not report her family’s negative experience to Adventureland staff because her autistic son was upset about a stolen toy, and they left.
Estrada said she has been on the ride many times and never experienced such problems. She said she later reached out to the Jaramillo family through their pastor, and shared her experience with their lawyer Thursday.
“My heart breaks for them,” she said. “I think something needs to be done about this ride.”
Best said Estrada’s account was consistent with what happened to the Jaramillos and suggests “the boats were not properly floating on the day of the incident.”
“There was a broader problem,” he said.
Adventureland attorney Guy Cook said Friday that the park was unaware of Estrada’s claims and that the investigation to date has “found no such narrative.”
“The senior operators have no reports of any difficulties with the boats from guests prior to the tragic accident,” he said. “Nevertheless, all information and reports will be considered as the investigation continues.”
The state report notes that the park’s maintenance staff took the Jaramillos’ boat and others out of service earlier that day “due to rafts on boats deflating.” Workers replaced the deflated bladders in the rafts before putting the boats back into service.
Cook said each boat’s raft has eight bladders, and they are monitored and routinely taken out so they can be refilled with air or replaced if they get deflated.
“There’s nothing unusual about that,” he said.
He noted that the Jaramillos’ boat was found after the accident with only one of its bladders deflated and an “exterior indentation in the outer rubber tube.” He said the boats, which weigh 1,700 pounds and have a heavy metal plate on the bottom for ballast, would not flip due to a single deflated bladder and it’s not clear when its deflation occurred.
“If you stay in your seat and the weight is evenly distributed regardless of whether a bladder is fully inflated, it’s very difficult to see how a 1,700-pound boat flips over,” he said. “That’s why it would appear there was some other factor at work on this day.”
By Ryan J. Foley