Adventureland's new owners will keep its Raging River ride shuttered for 2022 while they weigh its ultimate fate.
General manager Bill Lentz told the Des Moines Register his team has not decided whether the 39-year-old ride will ever reopen. The water ride at the Altoona park was the site of a deadly accident last summer, which killed Michael Jaramillo, an 11-year-old, and seriously injured his brother and father.
"We make sure that every attraction is safe to open," said Lentz, adding Adventureland "won't open any attraction unless it is safe."
Park owner Palace Entertainment has engaged the ride's original maker, Intamin Amusement Rides, to conduct an in-depth examination of what it would take to make the ride safe to operate, Lentz said. That could take several months, he said.
The park is slated to open for season pass holders on May 7 and for the general public on May 14.
In December, Pittsburgh-based Palace Entertainment, the U.S. subsidiary of Madrid-based Parques Reunidos, bought the almost 48-year-old theme park from the children of its founder, Des Moines real estate mogul Jack Krantz. Lentz said the new owners want to assure the public that no expense will be spared to make sure the park is safe.
In addition to closing the Raging River, the owners have taken extensive steps to improve overall safety and renovate Adventureland, including the addition of new rides, he said.
The attorney representing the family said recently his clients believe the ride should never be reopened.
“The Raging River ride isn’t safe,” said Ryan Best.
“Because the ride is a danger to those who ride it and operate it, it should remain closed,” he said.
Why are safety upgrades needed?
Closing the Raging River, as well as the examination by its creator, were some of the conditions state officials set in November after it reviewed the July 3 accident that killed 11-year-old Michael Jaramillo, put his brother David in a month-long coma and seriously injured their father.
The Iowa Division of Labor, which licenses amusement park rides, required Adventureland to make extensive changes and receive approval from the ride’s manufacturer or a certified engineer to reopen the ride.
At the time of the sale in December, the new owners had said they would make a determination about reopening. Lentz told the Register they determined they needed more time than remained before the season opens in May to assess how to make the ride safe and whether to replace it instead.
He also said the review of the Raging River ride is part of an extensive effort to bring Adventureland up to the safety standards the company uses across all its parks. Those standards often exceed those imposed by state regulators, he said.
The private company does not share specific financial numbers but is spending "tens of millions" of dollars on upgrades to Adventureland, said spokesman Nick Paradise. That includes anything from refurbishing rides to adding or increasing height requirements for riders on some rides, Lentz said.
"From a practical standpoint, it's very difficult to separate out safety-specific items from general investments into the resort," Paradise said. "Everything we do revolves around safety, so nearly every investment made has a safety component."
Additionally, he said, the park has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on safety-related training for park maintenance and operations staff since taking over.
The financial terms of the sale to Palace Entertainment has not been released, but public records obtained by the Register show that the Adventureland real estate was valued at $24.5 million.
How did Michael Jaramillo die?
In June 2016, ride operator Steve Booher was killed while unloading patrons from the Raging River.
Booher, 68, died of head trauma after a fall. The park was eventually fined $4,500 by the Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
During the 2020 season, Adventureland closed the Raging River to replace the ride's control board, in part to prevent future accidents like Booher's, said Guy Cook, the attorney representing the park's former owners.
That work continued through the beginning of the park's 2021 season, delaying the ride's opening to July 3. The day prior, a state inspector certified the ride as safe to operate.
On July 3, five members of the Jaramillo family, who are from Marion, Iowa, began their ride on the simulated white-water rapids, when their raft capsized, trapping them in the water.
Michael, David, and their father, also named David, were transported to area hospitals. Michael was pronounced dead by drowning in the early hours of July 4.
Later, state officials identified what they said were 17 safety violations on the ride. Violations included using parts not approved by the manufacturer, using Flex Seal instead of patches to fix leaks in the rafts, and not testing rafts following repairs.
The state ordered the park to take specific actions before reopening the ride.
Cook, the former owners' attorney, has said some of the state's findings were inaccurate. Through Cook, the park's former owners have maintained that the accident was the result of a "unique" combination of factors that could not have been foreseen.
Still, Cook said, had the family not sold to Palace, they would have followed the state's directives and gone through a similar process to decide whether or not to reopen the ride.
This article has been updated to correct the names of Adventureland Resort general manager Bill Lentz and Adventureland Resort parent company Palace Entertainment.
Daniel Lathrop is a staff writer on the Register's investigative team. Reach him at (319) 244-8873 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up with him as u/lathropd on Reddit, @lathropd on Twitter and at facebook.com/IowaGadfly.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Adventureland's Raging River stays closed in 2022 after death in 2021