MADISON, Wis. – Teagan Marti saw the free-fall ride Terminal Velocity at a Wisconsin Dells amusement park featured on a cable travel show and, being an adventurous 12-year-old, convinced her family to make the trip north from Florida to check it out.
Standing in line for the ride at Extreme World, the girl's mother Julie Marti recognized the ride operator as the same man who spoke on the show about how safe Terminal Velocity was, even though participants were dropped more than 100 feet into a net with no bungee cord or other tether.
Pictures of Teagan taken just before she got in the ride show her smiling broadly.
Her father started the video camera. Her mother watched anxiously from below.
And then the unthinkable happened.
Teagan Martin plummeted to the ground with nothing to break her fall.
Her mother rushed to her side.
"I saw her fall. I ran to her. She was bleeding out of her ears and mouth and nose," Julie Marti said Friday at a news conference inside the hospital where her daughter was flown from the accident site. "Her eyes were rolling back in her head and her lips were turning purple and I couldn't feel a pulse and I said, 'Teagan, it's mommy. Stay with me.'
"...It was the worst day of my life. I can't believe she's alive. I'm so glad she's alive."
Teagan Marti remains on a ventilator in stable but critical condition at American Family Children's Hospital. Doctors have said she suffered swelling in her brain, multiple severe fractures of her spine and pelvis and lacerations to her liver, spleen and intestines. They said she could end up paralyzed.
The ride operator, 33-year-old Charles A. Carnell of Lake Delton, Wis., was charged Wednesday with one count of first-degree-reckless injury, a felony punishable by up 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. Carnell told investigators that he "blanked out" and never saw the "all-clear" signal before releasing Teagan.
The Martis' attorney, Stuart Grossman, said he expects to file a civil lawsuit within three weeks. He said there were three steps Carnell had to take before releasing Teagan, leading him to wonder when Carnell "blanked out."
Carnell's attorney, Christopher T. Van Wagner, did not immediately return a message seeking comment late Friday.
Grossman also reacted to news that Lake Delton police caught employees at Extreme World doing repairs on the ride a week after the accident and the night before a state inspection. Grossman said he sent park operators a letter two days earlier telling them not to tamper with the ride.
According to the police report, employees were working on the ride at 2 a.m. A park worker told an officer they were repairing the control arms that helped move the ride's drop net because the arms were rusted "beyond the ability to turn them" and hadn't been replaced in eight years.
A person who answered the phone at Extreme World late Friday said its owner Bill Anderson was not there and would not return a message until Saturday.
Julie Marti wiped away tears as she talked about the accident publicly for the first time. Her daughter, who earned a spot on the National Junior Honor Society with straight-A grades, can communicate now only by blinking her eyes: once for yes, twice for no, she said.
Teagan's intubated and medicated for pain. She sleeps a lot.
"Any little sign I take as a miracle," her mother said. "Squeezing my hand and then regaining some squeezing in her right hand. We don't know what her deficits are going to be. We don't know if she's going to be paralyzed."
Julie Marti says she hopes to eventually get back to the family's home in Parkland, Fla., so Teagan can start rehabilitation there. For now, she says she answers her daughter's questions but doesn't offer details of that horrible day.
"She knows there was an accident. She asked me what happened on Terminal Velocity. I just told her they didn't catch her right."