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Holiday Park employees charged in death of American soldier’s daughter

Amber Walker, then 10, stands between her parents, Claudia and Edmond, a U.S. Army staff sergeant, at Heidelberg Castle in Heidelberg, Germany, in 2013. Amber was killed on a ride at Holiday Park in Hassloch, Germany, in August 2014. German prosecutors announced this week that three park employees have been charged with negligent homicide in connection with Amber's death. Claudia Walker wants the park placed off-limits to U.S. military personnel in Europe.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CLAUDIA WALKER

By JENNIFER H. SVAN AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 24, 2015

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Three employees have been charged in the death last year of an American soldier’s daughter on a ride at Holiday Park in Hassloch, German prosecutors announced this week.

Amber Walker, 11, died Aug. 15, 2014, after she was run over by rotating platforms on the Spinning Barrels ride. The ride — also known as Breakdance — started while she and her mother, Claudia, were standing on the platform next to one of the barrels.

The German prosecutor’s office in Frankenthal cited the three park employees for several egregious safety violations leading up to the incident. The ride’s operator, the operator’s direct training supervisor and an operations manager who oversees employee training face a fine or a prison sentence of up to five years if found guilty of negligent homicide.

Holiday Park is popular with American servicemembers and their families, many of whom are stationed about an hour   away at Air Force and Army bases in the state of Rhineland-Pfalz and elsewhere in Germany.

Prosecutors contend Amber’s death would likely have been prevented if the ride’s 22-year-old operator had checked to make sure the ride’s entrance door had been closed, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. The operator was the only ride attendant at the time.

Bernd Beitz, the manager of Holiday Park, said he couldn’t comment on the charges because the park had not seen the official charge documents. He said the park had cooperated with the investigation and provided all the information required.

“This was a very shocking and very tragic accident in the history of Holiday Parks,” he said, adding, “We try to help, find the cause and make sure this does not happen again.”

Amber and her mother were the last ones to enter the ride, Claudia Walker, 33, said in an interview with Stars and Stripes on Thursday. The gate behind which a line normally forms was open and the ride was about two-thirds full, with the other riders already seated, she said.

“It wasn’t closed off. That’s why we assumed it was OK to get on. There was nothing that indicated it was about to start,” she said. “To me, it just looked like they were waiting for the ride to fill up before they started.”

The safety latch on the barrel the Walkers walked up to was down, so they couldn’t step in, Claudia Walker said. As they stood on either side of the barrel, the ride started moving before they could leave.

The ride’s operator did not give a verbal warning to passengers that the ride was about to begin, prosecutors said.

 “Due to the sudden start of the ride, the girl stumbled into the danger zone between two platforms,” prosecutors said.

The operator’s training supervisor is criminally liable for failing to inform the operator during training that giving a verbal warning before starting the ride was mandatory, prosecutors said.

The operations manager was faulted for not ensuring the proper safety regulations were being followed.

The three employees said they did nothing wrong, according to prosecutors. A trial date has not been set.

Claudia Walker, who is German, and her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Edmond Walker, a light-wheel vehicle mechanic assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, live in Kelstersbach.

The park’s insurance company paid Claudia Walker 19,000 euros in compensation for her daughter’s death, she said.

She unsuccessfully tried to get U.S. Army Europe to place the park off limits to U.S. forces personnel in Europe. After conducting a safety assessment of the park in April, USAREUR found “that Holiday Park does not have a significant accident history that would indicate systemic safety problems,” the report says.

Holiday Park tickets are currently not available at USO, an employee in Kaiserslautern said, referring questions to management.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

kloeckner.marcus@stripes.com

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