COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A ropes course where a Florida teen died last summer was exempt from state inspections governing amusement rides, South Carolina regulators have concluded, a reversal of what they said immediately after her death.
The "Freebird" swing from which Olivia Paige Grimes fell at Carolina Point Camp in Sunset qualifies as an amusement ride, over which the agency has regulatory purview, the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation concluded in a report that it provided to the camp in October and shared with the AP this week. It doesn't require regular inspections, however, because the camp is only open to private groups, not the public, the report said.
Authorities have said the 16-year-old from Lakeland, Florida, died in July after falling more than 100 feet from the pendulum swing at the camp, which straddles the South Carolina-North Carolina state line. Grimes was supposed to be attached to the swing along with two other people, but became unhooked, authorities said.
Deputies said they found no evidence of foul play or mechanical failure. The Pickens County Coroner's Office said the death was accidental.
The state labor department opened an investigation after Grimes' death, saying at the time that the camp didn't have a permit for the swing or for several ziplines on the South Carolina side of the property. In October, however, the department concluded that while the activities qualify as amusement rides, they don't have to be inspected after all, because the camp is private.
In January, Grimes' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Young Life Inc., a Christian youth organization that organized the trip that brought Grimes to the camp, and Adventure Experiences Inc., the Texas company that the suit says sold the "Freebird" swing to the camp. The lawsuit, which this week was transferred from Florida to federal court in South Carolina, accuses both entities of negligence. Mediation is set for next month.
The Grimes family says the teen was never properly secured into the "ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous" swing, which at the time was being operated by only one Young Life employee instead of two. Adventure Experiences designed a "defective and unreasonably dangerous" ride that only had one hook for securing a rider, the lawsuit says.
Art Young, an attorney for Adventure Experiences, told AP in an email on Thursday that his client "did not design, manufacture, sell or install the 'Freebird' swing that is the subject of this action" and isn't responsible for Grimes' death. Attorneys representing Young Life have not responded to an email requesting comment.
While the state department of labor does not have jurisdiction over private camps' facilities, agency officials said in the document that they believe it is in the "best interest of the public safety" to ensure all amusement devices at the state's camps are regulated, not just ones in public areas, and that they would work toward clarifying that in state law.
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/