Last Son of Beast accident case going to trial

Man was injured and had to have surgery after riding the coaster in 2006.

MASON — The last case involving an accident on the Son of Beast roller coaster at Kings Island will go to trial next week in a Warren County courtroom.

Jonathan Yanik of Ashland, Ky., is the last person involved in many lawsuits launched against Kings Island’s owner, amusement park giant Cedar Fair, over an accident on the wooden roller coaster that sent 27 people to the hospital in June 2006.

A faulty support on the roller coaster was blamed for the jolting ride, which caused Kings Island officials to close the ride for a short amount of time. Son of Beast was closed in 2009 following a complaint and has not been opened since.

The civil lawsuit is scheduled to go before a jury Monday in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

Colleen Hegge, who has represented a half-dozen Son of Beast riders in court, said a settlement isn’t out of the question in Yanik’s case.

“Talks have continued, and they have gotten better,” she said.

Yanik suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery following the ride. He has spent $22,521 in medical bills to date, according to court documents and has suffered $22,000 in lost wages.

The lawsuit is asking for $500,000 in compensatory damages and more than $350,000 in punitive damages. All the other lawsuits but one were settled prior to trial. Jennifer Wright of Defiance took her case to a jury in October 2009 and was awarded $76,364 in compensatory damages and an undisclosed amount in punitive damages.

Wright suffered hip and lower back injuries after the car in which she was riding hit a span of track that had separated, where timbers splintered on the giant wooden roller coaster.

Kings Island offered to settle on punitive damages after the verdict was reached and before jurors could hear a taped deposition by a forensic engineer who inspected the ride and said Kings Island’s owners were “negligent” and “put passengers at risk.”

In a video interview, Rick Schmizze, who investigated the 2006 accident for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said owners of the amusement park have known since 2000 there were problems with the ride.

“They would fix them in a Band-Aid style and then wait and see what happened,” he testified. “They never really stopped and said ‘we’ve got a problem with this ride as a whole.’ ”

Wright said she would love to help Yanik win his case.

“All I ever wanted was the truth to come out and no one to ever be hurt again,” she said. “I am still fighting and I would love to offer any help or evidence. I feel their pain and suffering.”

Schmizze also will be a witness in the Yanik case. Kings Island’s attorneys tried to keep the deposition out of the trial, but removed their objection on Monday, according to Cedar Fair attorney Chip Finke. He would not comment further on the case.

Contact this reporter at (513) 696-4525 or dcallahan@coxohio.com.