Family of man killed at Heavenly to file suit

Adam Jensen

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Who is responsible for an accident that turned a newlywed outing to Heavenly Mountain Resort into a tragedy last summer will be decided in a South Lake Tahoe courtroom.

Robert Buccola, an attorney representing Mark Dickson’s wife and two sons, said Thursday that he will file a wrongful death lawsuit against Heavenly Valley LP and five companies associated with the Heavenly Flyer, a 3,100-foot-long zip line that opened to the public in February 2008. The suit should be filed in El Dorado County Superior Court by Friday, Buccola said.

Dickson, 51, and his wife of one month, Rebecca Dickson, rode up Heavenly’s Tamarack Express chairlift on the afternoon of Aug. 31 with the intention of riding the adjacent Heavenly Flyer. When they reached the top, they were told Mark Dickson was too tall to ride, Buccola said.

The Glendora, Calif. couple then said they wanted to hike down, but were told they would need to ride the chairlift back down the mountain “for safety reasons,” Buccola said.

During their ride down the chairlift, a retrieval rope on the Heavenly Flyer broke and became entangled in the chairlift’s safety bar. The entanglement caused the safety bar to open and the chair to swing, pitching Dickson to the ground 50 feet below, according to authorities who investigated the incident.

Dickson, 51, died from trauma to his upper body caused by the fall.

Rebecca Dickson, who did not fall from the lift, suffered severe rope abrasions during the accident, Buccola said.

A copy of the suit Buccola sent to the Tribune on Wednesday claims Heavenly Valley LP, Terranova, Samson Rope Technologies, Lamoreaux Group, BCS Motion and This Side Up Productions were negligent in their involvement with the ride. Each of the companies have a connection to the construction, operation or maintenance of the Heavenly Flyer.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The lawsuit is the latest challenge for the ride.

Wind and ice build-up caused the ride to open only sporadically during its first winter. The ride was closed following the August accident and did not open to the public during the 2009-2010 winter season.

Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday and said he did not know when the ride will reopen.

Representatives from Samson and BCS Motion were not available for comment and messages left requesting comment to Lamoreaux Group and This Side Up Productions were not returned Thursday.

Eric Cylvick, the owner of the company that created the ZipRider technology used by the Heavenly Flyer, Terranova, declined to comment on the suit Thursday, saying only that he stands by the safety of the ride.

Terranova has built 10 zip lines around the world and lists safety as the “most important factor in every ZipRider zip line cable ride produced” on its website.

Much of the wrongful death suit focuses on the retrieval rope used to return the Heavenly Flyer’s harnesses to the top of the ride.

In the suit, Buccola claims the companies “knew or should have known that the use of a rope retrieval line as part of the Equipment Retrieval System posed the risk of serious injury or death to persons lawfully on the premises” and failed to warn Heavenly patrons of the danger.

Although a steel cable retrieval system is more appropriate for such a ride, the rope used on the day Dickson died should have only been used with meticulous monitoring for wear and following stringent replacement guidelines, Buccola said.

Examination of the retrieval rope on the zip line following the accident showed significant wear, and retrieval ropes on the Heavenly Flyer had broke at least three, and as many as five, times prior to the Aug. 29 incident, Buccola said.

The lawsuit also indicates wind was blowing faster than the 30 mph operational limit of the zip line at the time of the accident. The wind contributed to the retrieval line’s entanglement in the Tamarack Express chairlift, according to the suit.

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