Can an Operator of an Attraction be a Criminal?

August 31, 2010

Charles Carnell fancied himself a television star after he appeared on a Discovery Channel program that featured an attraction called Terminal Velocity located at a place called Extreme World in the heart of the Wisconsin Dells, WI tourism area.  Terminal Velocity is a thrill attraction known as a suspended catch air device (SCAD for short) in which the customer or “diver” ascends about 150 feet in the air either by stairs or a special elevator system.  The diver is fitted into the CFF “Controlled Free Fall” system that guarantees a secure free fall position for a comfortable landing. The operator (a “dive master”) assists the diver into a proper position and releases the cable that suspends the diver.  The diver then drops in an unattached controlled freefall for about 100 feet before being caught in a suspended net attached to airtubes and break suspensions for a soft landing so that the diver feels no impact at all.  A secondary safety system is in place in the form of an inflated air bag onto which the net is lowered.  The air is then released from the bag allowing the diver to return back to the ground.  Carnell was the dive master for Terminal Velocity during the taping of the television program.

 This same television program so captured the imagination of a young Florida girl, Teagan Marti, that she begged her parents to allow her to try a dive from Terminal Velocity the next time they visited relatives in the Chicago area.  Soon the big day came.  According to news reports, on July 30, 2010, Teagan got the opportunity to try the attraction and hoped on the elevator platform with 2 men along with their dive master, Charles Carnell.  The platform began the ascent but slowed down, presumably to let the air bag fill up.  The elevator stopped again about 100 feet in the air and Carnell assumed he was ready for the dives.  From his vantage point, he could see the net and the air bag below and was to wait for a signal to be given by the ground operator who ensures the net is raised properly and that the air bag is inflated.  Carnell then “blanked out” and placed Teagan in the dive position and released her cable.  Unfortunately, the ground operator never provided the signal and the net and air bag both remained on the ground.  With a thud, Teagan landed on the ground below.  She was alive and subsequently taken to a hospital with serious medical conditions include swelling of the brain, several fractures of the cervical and lumbar segments of her spine, multiple fractures of her pelvis and lacerations to her liver, spleen, intestines and duodenum.

 On August 17, the County Attorney for Sauk County filed a criminal complaint against Charles Carnell charging him with first degree reckless injury in violation of 940.23(a)(1) and 939.50(d).  I found it interesting that the charge is called first-degree reckless injury, yet the statute itself only refers to the class of felony but not to the degrees of reckless injury.  The case file number is 2010CF000201 and the case’s progress can be followed using Westlaw Dockets database identifier of DOCK-WI-STCTS to see if the court thinks the attraction operator is a criminal.

For related  cases and an overview of the substantive law, see section 12 of 16 COA 2d 1, Causes of Action Against Operator of Amusement Park for Inury on Ride. Section 12 is dedicated to criminal liability.

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