RYE, N.Y. (AP) – Gabriela Garin made her first visit to Rye Playland as a 3-year-old and spent the last seven years working at the popular amusement park.
On Saturday, her devastated family was mourning her sudden death on one of its rides – and questioning her employer’s role in the tragedy.
The 21-year-old mother died Friday night after she was thrown from the Mind Scrambler, the same ride where a youngster died three years ago at the landmark suburban park, officials said. Park officials acknowledged that a safety precaution created after the 2004 fatality was ignored before Garin’s death.
“She grew up in this place, and this place took her away from us,” said her weeping sister, Ruby Garin. “She used to come here when she was 3 years old. It wasn’t her fault.”
The deadly ride was immediately shut down for the rest of the summer as authorities tried to determine what happened in the final seconds before Garin was hurled to her death from the gyrating ride.
Garin was finishing up her shift on the Mind Scrambler, a spider-arm-shaped attraction that spins passengers around in two-seat cars, when she continued to load on a few new riders before heading home, said park spokesman Peter Tartaglia.
As the last passengers were strapped into their seats, impatient riders began shouting “Come on, start the ride,” said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. The ride’s new operator, his view apparently blocked by a high back on the ride’s seat, started the Mind Scrambler with Garin kneeling on a seat bench, Spano said.
According to Tartaglia, the ride’s operator noticed Garin and shut the attraction down within 20 seconds. But Garin, who started working at the park when she was 14, was already ejected from the ride and killed.
Emergency workers responded quickly, but Garin was pronounced dead at the scene around 9:30 p.m., said Westchester County Police spokesman Kieran O’Leary.
Her sisters described Gabriela as a responsible, hard-working mother who was devoted to her child and careful on the job.
Spano said the details of her death were incongruous with stories about the dead woman’s life.
“This is a savvy young lady, bright, who was working here since she was 14 years old,” Spano said.
“She knows this ride like the back of her hand. This behavior is inconsistent with what people know about her.”
The Mind Scrambler was the scene of another deadly accident on May 22, 2004, when 7-year-old Stephanie Dieudonne wriggled free of the restraining bar on one of the cars, knelt on the seat and fell soon after the ride started, according to investigators.
The park was not cited for any violations or required to make improvements to the ride after the girl’s death, although officials announced plans to add seat belts, more lighting and a second attendant at the Mind Scrambler.
But no second attendant was on duty in the booth when the Friday night fatality occurred, Tartaglia said.
S & L Amusements, the company that owned the Mind Scrambler, employed Garin.
Attempts to reach the company by phone and e-mail were unsuccessful Saturday. Playland officials also indefinitely closed two other rides operated by S & L pending an inspection of safety procedures.
The death was the fourth in as many years at the county-owned Playland, a National Historic Landmark that opened in 1928 and was the amusement park featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks film “Big.”
After the Mind Scrambler accident in 2004, a 7-year-old boy was killed the next year when he climbed out of a boat ride and fell, according to investigators.
A 43-year-old man drowned after wading into a park lake on July 4, 2006.
Playland is on Long Island Sound, about 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan. Featuring more than 50 rides, a pool and a beach, it draws more than 1 million visitors a year.