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Saturday, Aug 23, 2014
Crime & Courts

Adventure Island sued in staffer's death

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TAMPA - The family of a lifeguard killed by lightning at Adventure Island two years ago is suing the water park for negligence, saying park employees did not heed the alarms of a weather monitoring system and failed to shut down rides.

The suit, filed Monday in Tampa, seeks damages of more than $15,000 in the death of Justin Savers Inversso and names Adventure Island, its parent company SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and an employee of the water park as defendants.

Inversso, who turned 21 the day before his death, was working 700 feet above ground on the Key West Rapids ride on Sept. 10, 2011, when a storm rolled through the area.

He was standing in 2 or 3 feet of water evacuating patrons when struck by lightning, authorities said. He was taken out of the water by co-workers and given CPR. He died at a local hospital.

Park employees did not follow protocol and failed to "shut down any of the park's rides in response to the alarms" emitted by the lightning detection system, the lawsuit states.

Between 10:14 and 11:34 a.m. that day, the equipment detected "nine separate instances of lightning strikes within zero to five miles of the park," the complaint said. "At 11:44 a..m., there were seven simultaneous lightning strikes at respective distances of two, seven, 1.2, 1.8, 2.6, three and 3.8 miles from the entrances of Adventure Island. At 11:44 a.m., Justin Savers Inversso was struck by lightning and killed."

The lawsuit also claims that when the system detects lightning within 5 miles of the park, the park policy requires an operations supervisor monitor the weather "at some visible outside location" and shut down rides.

The lawsuit said Michael Penzato, the operations supervisor on shift that day, "consciously failed to shut down the Key West Rapids ride as required" by procedures after being made aware of "the alarm of lighting strikes within five miles of the park."

A spokesman for Busch Gardens, which is affiliated with Adventure Island, declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.

Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the water park $7,000, saying employees did not follow procedures in shutting down rides as the thunderstorm approached the area, thus placing Inversso in the path of a fatal lightning strike.

The OSHA report lists the violation as "serious" and says employees were "not informed to initiate rides shut-down" when the park's monitoring systems indicated lightning within 5 miles of the park.

The report also recommended employees receive more training on how to interpret and assess lightning strike data recorded by the park's weather monitoring system and improving communications between employees during an approaching storm. OSHA recommended Adventure Island "re-evaluate time required to evacuate guests from rides, especially when employees are the last to evacuate and seek shelter."

In a statement the day after Inversso's death, park officials said the fatal lightning strike was the first since the water park opened in 1980.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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