District Attorney: No criminal charges in death of 6-year-old at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
There will be no criminal charges filed in relation to the death of a 6-year-old girl at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park last September.
Ninth District Attorney Jefferson Cheney said in a written statement late Tuesday, provided to the Post Independent on Wednesday morning, that after reviewing the case he does not believe prosecutors could prove “any one person or entity acted with criminal negligence or was criminally reckless” in causing the girl’s death.
Wongel Estifanos died as a result of blunt force injuries she sustained when she fell from the Haunted Mine Drop ride at the Caverns on Sept. 5, 2021.
An investigation by the state agency responsible for overseeing amusement park rides found that Wongel, who was with several members of her family on the ride, was not properly secured and was sitting on the seatbelt when the ride started. She fell the full 110-foot length of the ride to her death.
The girl’s parents, through Denver attorney Dan Caplis, have sued the Adventure Park owners, claiming the park’s operators acted in a reckless manner. They seek unspecified economic and non-economic damages.
“Once again, our daughter’s life has been treated as cheap and meaningless, first by the amusement park and now by the DA,” the family said in a statement issued Wednesday morning.
“We never wanted the people who killed our daughter to go to jail,” they said. “But for the DA to let them off with nothing says our daughter’s life was worth nothing. Justice should be equal. Our little girl should matter as much as a big corporation.”
In his decision statement, Cheney said his office considered either criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter charges.
“I considered what actor or actors may have committed (these) crimes and whether there is sufficient evidence that would yield a reasonable probability of conviction …”
Cheney said he felt the elements of those two potential charges could not be proven.
“My conclusion is strictly based upon the standard of evidentiary proof applicable in a criminal prosecution (beyond a reasonable doubt) and it is not my intent to pronounce anything beyond a conclusion that the Office of the District Attorney cannot prove criminal negligence or criminal recklessness was committed by a particular person or entity beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal prosecution,” Cheney wrote.
The girl’s family said they believe the DA Office’s investigation fell short, including the lack of a drug test involving the ride operator.
“The DA tells us he knows the killing of Wongel was a ‘gross deviation from the standard of care,’ but that he can’t prove which of the operators did it,” they said in the statement. “That doesn’t make sense to us.
“The criminal system failed our daughter. We will now go to civil court and prove it on our own,” they concluded.
The Adventure Park was fined $68,000 by the state following the accident investigation by the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety Amusement Rides and Devices Program.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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