Woman Describes Roller Coaster Struggle Week Before Fatal Fall

Self-described "big woman" says she got off Six Flags Over Texas roller coaster after attendants had trouble securing her lap bar

A North Texas woman says she refused to ride a Six Flags Over Texas roller because of the lap restraint system one week before another woman fell from the ride to her death.

Lori Tate, a Parker County mother who describes herself as a big woman, said she chose to get off the Texas Giant before the ride started because she felt uncomfortable with the lap restraint system.

"I couldn't breathe," she said.

Tate told the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit that the ride attendants kept trying to secure her restraint but she didn't feel safe.

"They kept on (saying), 'Suck in, suck in.' And I can't suck in anymore," she said. "And they were like, 'Well, it'll be OK.' And I said, 'Nope, and let me off.'"

Tate visited the Arlington amusement park with her two daughters, Kadi, 7 and Hail, 12, and one of Hali's friends exactly one week before the fatal accident that killed Rosa Ayala-Gaona.

According to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office, Ayala-Gaona, a 52-year-old Dallas resident, was ejected from her third-row seat on the Texas Giant and fell approximately 75 feet. An autopsy revealed she died from multiple traumatic injuries from the fall.

Tate said she wondered if weight could have been a factor after hearing about the tragedy, reading witness accounts of what happened and knowing about her own trouble with the restraint on the roller coaster.

The NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit combed Six Flag Over Texas' website. While there are height restrictions for the Texas Giant, NBC 5 could find no weight restrictions. A Six Flags representative would not respond to questions about weight restrictions.

Mark Goodson, a forensic engineer with Goodson Engineering who has testified against Six Flags in a past injury accident lawsuit, said rides are not designed for everybody.

"There will be certain sizes of people who just cannot fit in a ride," he said. "It is not feasible to design a ride that can handle every person."

Ken Martin, an amusement park ride and safety specialist who has testified before and against amusement parks, agrees. He saw photos of the victim and believes weight was a contributing factor.

"When you come down that hill and you feel your bottom parts, you know, come off that seat, well, that's your negative-g forces at work right there," he said.

G-force is the force of gravity or acceleration on the body. Negative g-force is what roller coaster riders feel as they go down a hill.

"Those forces are part of the ride, part of the thrill, part of taking you to the edge and, hopefully, bringing you back safely," Martin said.

Martin said he is not familiar with the exact g-forces the Texas Giant exerts. But based on his experience, the g-force, depending on how strong, essentially multiplies a person's weight, putting pressure on the restraint, he said. For example, if someone weighing 300 pounds was on a steep drop with a negative 3G, it could put as much as 900 pounds of pressure on the lap-bar restraint.

But Martin doesn't believe weight was the only factor in the fatal accident. Based on his previous cases, many things likely went horribly wrong, causing the Dallas mother to fall to her death, he said.

Martin said most rides are designed for an adult who weighs 180 pounds.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions told NBC 5, "Restraint design is typically based upon a 95 percentile physical profile to comfortably accommodate the vast majority of a ride's population segment."

Tate said she doesn't think she fits into that 95 percent.

"I'm too big for this ride," she said. "I can't do it. Something in my head said get off."

The IAAPA, the largest international trade association for fixed amusement parks, said amusement parks are overwhelmingly safe. The likelihood of sustaining at a permanent amusement park ride in the United States an injury serious enough to require overnight hospitalization or treatment is one in 24 million, the association said. The chance of being fatally injured on an amusement ride is one in 750 million.

According to injury reports filed by Six Flags Over Texas with the Texas Department of Insurance, there have been 14 injuries on the Texas Giant between April 2008 and April 2013. Most were minor and were caused by the ride jostling the passenger.

Texas is one of at least 17 states that does not have a state agency responsible for inspecting amusement park rides, according to a survey by NBC News. Texas also has no law granting the state power to investigate in the event of an accident.

Instead, Six Flags is conducting its own investigation into last week's fatality.

Tate said she's relieved she decided not to ride the Texas Giant.

"I could have been that woman," she said.

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