EL PASO, Texas — The investigation into the death of a 16-year-old who was thrown from a Texas carnival ride at a church bazaar in April revealed that she was not wearing a seatbelt, and the investigation was closed with no charges filed against anyone involved in the incident.
Samantha Aguilar, who was a junior at Hanks High School, was riding the Sizzler at a St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church carnival April 29. Samantha was thrown from the ride and struck a metal fence before landing on the ground, according to the final investigation report from the El Paso Police Department.
The final report issued by police states that the case status was unfounded. Department officials said that the criminal investigation into the incident is now closed.
The Aguilar family could not be reached for comment. The report, obtained by the El Paso Times through an open records request, includes several statements from witnesses at the carnival, including friends on the ride with Samantha, the ride owner and its operator, and church officials.
According to the report, Samantha and her friends Jackie Ramos and Clarissa Ramos got on the Sizzler together. They did not buckle the seatbelt because “they were not large enough to secure us in the ride,” Jackie Ramos stated during her interview with police investigators.
Both girls told investigators that they told the ride operator, Robert David Krause, that their seatbelt was not buckling. Both girls also told investigators that Krause told them it was OK not to wear the seatbelt and that the safety bar was all they needed.
In interviews with the El Paso Times, both Krause and Claude Edwards, owner of Playtime Amusements Inc. who was in charge of the rides at the carnival, said that the seatbelts weren’t legally required but were added as an extra safety measure.
“The ride manufacturer, the inspector, all said that it (the accident) was due to the patrons’ fault,” Krause said. “The ride didn’t come from the manufacturer with seatbelts, they were installed afterward for extra safety. The lap bar keeps the patrons in their seats and that is what prevents anyone from getting hurt. The lap bar is the only safety thing that comes with the ride. Again, the seatbelts were added for extra safety, but aren’t needed to keep the riders safe.”
Edwards declined to comment on the final report without a lawyer.
He said the ride had passed safety inspections and the ride operator did nothing wrong during the incident.
“It is not the law that you have to have seatbelts as long as the safety bar is there and we checked all that," Edwards said. “I just want the facts to come out. I am really, really, really sorry for what happened and I feel for the family. But again I don’t believe it was the operator or the ride. It was none of our error and I really believe that.”
In the police report, several witnesses gave contradicting testimony about whether the girls were standing up during the ride.
Edwards, who was in the area of the Sizzler ride, told investigators that he saw a girl standing on the seat of the ride and ran to tell the girl to sit down. He then saw the girl “become separated from the seat and was ejected from the ride,” the report states.
“When I was checking the electric plug I saw a girl standing inside a tube and in a split second I saw the girl falling out of the tube before I could tell her to sit down,” Edwards said in a written statement given to police. “I saw the girl hit the fence that secured the ride, I ran to the ride and moved the fence. As I was running to the ride I heard the ride’s hydraulic system breaking the ride and it came to a stop real fast.”
Jackie Ramos told investigators that she and her friends were not standing on the seat during the ride.
“I cannot believe how quickly tragedy struck and that my friend lost her life,” Jackie Ramos said in a written statement give to investigators. “The whole time while we were on the ride we were trying to hold on, we never stood up or anything like that it all happened so fast.”
As part of the investigation, officers took Krause to the police department, asking whether he would voluntarily take several tests to check his intoxication level and whether there were any illegal drugs in his system. Krause initially agreed to the breath test, but as police conducted other tests, Krause allegedly became "reluctant," the report said.
According to the report, Krause was acting nervous, anxious and had a high blood pressure and temperature. Krause felt he shouldn't be taking the test until he got a lawyer.
One officer said in the report that he felt Krause “might have been under the influence of an unknown substance,” but another officer said that they had decided to allow Krause to leave the police station.
Krause told the El Paso Times he was willing to do any tests, but it was taking too long and his family was waiting for him at the station.
The final investigative report concluded that there was no evidence of criminal intent. The case status was listed as “unfounded” and was officially closed June 21.