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'Rapids' victim released from hospital, more witnesses talk

Alissa Widman Neese • Jul 22, 2013 at 6:07 PM

Witnesses described a terrifying scene at Cedar Point Friday evening when the Shoot the Rapids water ride malfunctioned, sending a boat backward down a lift hill and overturning into waist-deep water with riders still aboard. 


Park visitors and others sprung into action to rescue seven people who became trapped in the boat after it overturned at about 6:40 p.m.   


“We heard a snap and then a clunk and then it was the loudest noise, like an explosion,” said Emily Capezzuto, a Pennsylvania resident at the park Friday. “Then it slid down the hill and flipped on its side.”


One woman injured her head in the incident, witnesses said.


“There was blood everywhere,” said another witness, Heather Brown, of Fostoria. “It was so scary.” 


Six people aboard the ride were treated by Cedar Point paramedics, while one person was taken to Firelands Regional Medical Center, Cedar Point officials said in a release. The individual has since been released from the hospital. The extent of any injuries was unknown, as park officials did not elaborate. 


Click here for 911 audio of the incident.


In a statement, park officials said “rider operators stopped the Shoot the Rapids ride after a boat rolled back down the lift hill. Cedar Point police, EMS staff, ride operators and several park guests immediately responded and helped passengers exit the boat.” 


Witnesses, however, said the boat actually overturned after it came backwards down the hill. At the bottom of the hill is a water chute, a few feet deep, with slow-moving water propelling the boat from the station. Concrete parapets are on both sides of the water chute.   


Some witnesses said the boat flipped almost completely over, while others said it appeared the boat had flipped onto its side. Cedar Point officials did not return multiple calls seeking clarification. 


Witnesses said park visitors rushed into action, jumping into the water to upright the boat and pull out the riders. 


Matthew Orr, 26, of Euclid, said he was one of about nine people who jumped into the water to help. Orr said it appeared some riders were submerged for a few minutes before rescuers could upright the boat. The riders included adults and children, Orr said. 


A witness at the scene provided the Register a picture of what appears to be bystanders working to flip the Shoot the Rapids boat upright. 


“One of the cars ... came down off that hill, and people were still in it,” Orr said. “They were trapped. 


“We jumped in and helped them get out,” he said. “If we didn’t help, I don’t even know what would have happened. 


“It took nine or 10 people to pull the car up,” Orr said. “We had the car sitting sideways.” 


Orr said children on the ride “appeared scared to death.” 


While bystanders jumped the railing from the observation deck into the ride area to help, sirens went off, alerting staff to the emergency. The whole area seemed in a panic, multiple witnesses said. 


Some lap bars on the boat released upon impact, but others didn’t, trapping people in the boat, witnesses said. Children would have been submerged for some time under water if people hadn’t come to the rescue by pulling the children up and holding their heads above the water, Brown said. 


“I was so worried I was going to look on the other side of that boat and see something awful,” Brown said. “There were kids inside. It was bad. I felt terrible for the parents who couldn’t help them.”


Emily and her mother, Keri Capezzuto, were on the Shoot the Rapids boat ahead of the ill-fated boat. 


Keri said she jumped out of her boat, and she and a group of others helped flip the capsized boat right-side up. She injured her knee in the process. Around 7:30 p.m., paramedics treated her, wrapping her leg. 


“It ruined our whole day,” Keri said. “We’re pretty shaken up.


“I didn’t even realize I hurt myself until after, when the adrenaline stopped,” Keri said. “Then I realized I hurt my knee pretty bad. I just wanted to make sure everyone was OK first.”


Keri and her group left immediately after the incident. They said it was their first time on the ride — they usually don’t ride water rides, but they wanted to cool off on a hot day. They said Cedar Point staff said little to them, but jotted down their names. 


Sandusky firefighters said they received not a single call from Cedar Point requesting assistance Friday evening. The park has nurses and paramedics on staff.  


“The safety of our guests is our number one priority,” Cedar Point stated in its release. “Cedar Point officials are currently investigating the incident and have reported it to state of Ohio officials. Shoot the Rapids will remain closed until park officials and inspectors from the state of Ohio complete their review. No further information is available at this time.”


Shortly after the incident, Cedar Point police stood guard at all entry points to the ride. 


Friday’s incident is not the first piece of bad news for Shoot the Rapids. 


Three months ago, an Elyria man filed a lawsuit against Cedar Point, seeking damages for injuries he allegedly sustained in June 2012, when he was a passenger on a Shoot the Rapids boat. Benjamin Petrey, 35, says he suffered injuries to his head, neck, back and body when the ride came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of a hill and was struck from behind by another boat, according to the lawsuit. 


The $10.5 million ride debuted in 2010, although the opening was delayed because of testing and inspections. 


Cedar Point also sued a Michigan company that was hired to install fake rocks around the ride. The amusement park said the company did not perform the required work, but it still pocketed more than $200,000.  The case was settled about a year ago, according to court records. 


On Saturday, a Cedar Point mechanic was injured after falling while working on Millenium Force. That same day, a rider on GateKeeper was taken to the hospital after suffering an apparent medical condition, park officials said. 


Click here for a related story and additional photos.

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