MADISON, Wis. – An amusement park worker "blanked out" and never saw an all-clear signal before he let a Florida girl plunge 100 feet to the ground on a free-fall ride, according to a criminal complaint.
Prosecutors charged Charles A. Carnell, of Lake Delton, with one count of first-degree-reckless injury, a felony punishable by up 25 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge James Evenson on Wednesday set Carnell's bail at $1,000 cash with the conditions he have no contact with the girl or her family. The judge also ordered Carnell not to operate the park's free-fall ride, bungee jump or ejector seat ride.
Carnell's attorney, Christopher T. Van Wagner, didn't immediately return a message left at his Madison office.
The complaint, filed Tuesday, said Carnell, 33, was the dive master on the Terminal Velocity free-fall ride at Extreme World in Lake Delton on July 30. The ride offers patrons a chance to free fall about 160 feet into a net and air bags.
Twelve-year-old Teagan Marti of Parkland, Fla., entered the ride the morning of July 30. Carnell told investigators he rode in the cage with the girl and two others.
At some point the cage stopped and was lowered slightly, Carnell said. He looked over the side of the cage and saw a co-worker blowing up the air bag.
The cage began ascending again, then stopped. Carnell said ground workers typically will halt the ascent to add more air to the air bags.
After the cage stopped the second time, Carnell said he was supposed to look over the side of the cage and extend his arms, signaling all-clear to workers on the ground. A ground worker was supposed to return the signal, telling him the air bags were ready.
He said he didn't look and didn't get the signal from the ground. He said he "totally blanked out" and didn't know why.
When he looked through a trap door in the cage, he thought the bags were inflated. Witnesses, however, said the bags weren't inflated and the safety net was on the ground.
Carnell then prepared Teagan to drop through the trap door. He unhooked her safety device and she fell to the ground. He said he heard a thud and saw her land on her back.
He said he realized then the cage wasn't at the proper height, estimating she probably fell about 100 feet rather than the full 165 feet.
Police said they found the girl on the ground under the ride. Her skin was gray, her lips were blue and she was bleeding from the mouth, ears and nose.
Doctors said she suffered swelling in her brain, multiple severe fractures of her spine and pelvis and lacerations to her liver, spleen and intestines. They told investigators she could end up paralyzed.
The girl was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison, hospital spokeswoman Ellen Schwenn said. She declined to release any additional information, citing health privacy laws.
Stuart Grossman, an attorney for Teagan's family, said the ride needs a fail-safe mechanism that warns operators when the cage has reached the correct height and whether the net and air bags are ready.
"It is high time that the state acknowledged that this ride, the way it was operated, was atrocious," Grossman said. "That he could be allowed through carelessness to drop a human being a hundred feet with no net extended is really a moral outrage."