Boy killed at Iowa amusement park was trapped by seatbelt, parents say

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The parents of an 11-year-old boy who died on a water ride in Iowa said Tuesday they were helpless in trying to save him — because they were trapped by their seatbelts.

David and Sabrina Jaramillo detailed the freak Saturday accident on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that claimed the life of their 11-year-old son, Michael.

The family was on the Raging River water ride at Adventureland Park in Altoona on Sunday when their raft overturned, trapping the family and the couple’s niece.

“When it flipped over, all of us were trapped in the safety seat belts,” David Jaramillo said in an interview that aired early Tuesday. “I see the silhouettes of my sons trying to grab each other, grab us. They wanted us to help them. We couldn’t do it.”

The Jaramillos spoke to ABC from a hospital where their 15-year-old son, David, was in critical condition in a medically induced coma early Tuesday. He turns 16 on Wednesday and his family visited the park to celebrate his upcoming birthday.

The couple said they got onto the ride with Michael, David and their youngest son, Gus, as well as their niece Mila, before the raft abruptly flipped over.

The parents, Gus and Mila managed to free themselves, but Michael and David could not, the couple recalled.

“I’m drowning,” David Jaramillo said. “The river was so intense, it was like a suction.”

The family yelled for help, prompting witnesses and first-responders to hop in the water and ultimately free the two trapped children. Both David and Michael were rushed to a hospital in critical condition, while the rest of the family had minor injuries, police said.

“Our thoughts are with the Jaramillo family as they navigate the heartbreaking loss of their child,” Altoona police said in a statement Monday.

Police in Altoona, as well as state officials, are working with Adventureland Park to determine what caused the tragic accident, which marked the second death on the ride in the last five years, according to the Des Moines Register.

Michael, meanwhile, was a “good kid” whose tragic death serves as a reminder for his heartbroken parents.

“He was just taken from us,” David Jaramillo said. “Love your kids. You just don’t know when they’ll be taken.”

Sabrina Jaramillo said she feels as if she was cheated out of seeing her son reach the milestones she expected to experience by his side.

“I will never get a chance to see him grow up or get a chance to see him graduate,” she said. “I feel like Adventureland robbed me of my baby, I’m gonna never get a chance to see him grow up.”

Compounding the tragedy, the family’s youngest son, Gus, cannot stop thinking about Saturday’s accident, the couple said.

“He’s scared,” Michael Jaramillo continued. “It is a nightmare. He closes his eyes and thinks about the water. When he wakes up, he realizes the nightmare’s true. So there’s no peace.”

An attorney for Adventureland Park told ABC News in a statement that the Raging River ride is safe, having been in operation for nearly four decades.

“The ride was inspected by the State of Iowa the day before the incident and was in good working order,” attorney Guy Cook said.

Cook told the Associated Press that the family-owned park is cooperating with investigators.

“Safety is the number one priority at Adventureland,” Cook wrote to the AP in a text message.

The ride first opened at the park in 1983 and then-Gov. Terry Branstad was one of the inaugural riders, the Des Moines Register reported. It was shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but reopened the day of the accident, according to the newspaper.

Cook told the newspaper there was no commonality between Saturday’s accident and the 2016 fatality of a 68-year-old Adventureland employee Steve Booher, who died after fracturing his skull as he fell onto the ride’s conveyor belt.

Cook declined to comment on Saturday’s accident until the investigation is completed, the newspaper reported.

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