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Hundreds Mourn Student Killed in Water Slide Accident

Memorial: Napa High senior is remembered as a gentle and caring person. Some victims attend the service in wheelchairs or on crutches.

June 08, 1997|From Associated Press

NAPA — Mourners wept Saturday as the victim of a water slide accident was shown in a year-old television tape saying she wanted to be like her mother.

About 800 people, including family, friends and senior classmates from Napa High School, gathered at the school's gym for Quimby Ghilotti's memorial service.

The 17-year-old graduating senior died and 32 others were injured Monday when the Bonzai Pipeline slide at Concord's Waterworld USA ripped apart under the weight of dozens of teenagers.

At the service, Ghilotti's photo stood framed on stage and surrounded by dozens of flowers.

In the event's most dramatic moment, mourners watched a 1996 taped television interview of Ghilotti and her mother.

In the KGO-TV series about the generation gap, Ghilotti and her mother, shown as they prepared dinner in the kitchen of their Napa home, were asked if they felt a distance between them.

"It's hard because we're so close," Ghilotti replied. "I really love my mom. . . . I would like to be like her."

Many mourners broke into sobs.

Friends remembered Ghilotti as gentle, concerned and someone they went to for advice.

"She was a sweet little girl, and she was my oldest friend," said classmate Courtney Davidson.

Some victims of the accident attended the service in wheelchairs or on crutches.

Vice Principal Roger Ashlock, a chaperon for the trip, called the accident a tragedy that had stolen the youth from many Napa High seniors.

"Students lose the essence of their childhood, responding to the needs of the injured, helping to save the lives of their classmates," he said, followed by a five-minute standing ovation.

Ashlock's comments were in part intended to counter efforts by Waterworld USA officials to blame the high school seniors for the accident.

Witnesses said the students, who were on their annual senior class trip, jammed onto the 40-foot-high slide to put as many people as possible on the winding, spaghetti-like chute.

About 30 teenagers were jammed into one 20-foot section when it split open, investigators believe.

The Napa Register reported Saturday that at least one chaperon to the trip told the students that there was a record of 76 youngsters going down the slide at once, and that the chaperon expected them to break that record.

The newspaper also said that Ashlock told students they would not get into trouble for "clogging" the slide.

"I tell the kids, 'If you get caught 'clogging,' if you get kicked out of the park, that's fine,' " Ashlock told the newspaper. "This is a senior trip. We're not trying to keep them from having a good time," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Jamming onto a water slide is an annual senior tradition at the school, the newspaper said.

Theme park owners and Concord authorities are investigating the accident at the 2-year-old attraction, which occurred when a piece of the slide broke open and twisted upside down as it fell, spilling students to the ground.

A dozen students remained hospitalized Saturday, some with serious injuries.

On Friday, the San Jose Mercury News reported that a city engineer had concerns about the water slides at the park long before the collapse, and that despite the concern, the city of Concord issued permits to operate the attraction.

Concord officials said the engineer's worries had nothing to do with the chute's collapse.

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