Danvers firm faces criminal charge

Woman died after fall at Mansfield festival in 2005

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / June 26, 2009
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A Danvers-based company was indicted yesterday in the 2005 death of a Saugus woman, who fell from an inflatable climbing wall, in a rare case of an amusement ride company being charged criminally in the state.

The company - Just for Fun Rentals! - was charged in Bristol Superior Court with manslaughter in the death of 24-year-old Stacy Sarrette, who was with her sister, cousins, and an aunt at a country music festival in Mansfield when she fell from the wall.

She had been wearing a harness and was tied to ropes, but somehow fell on her head in May 2005. Knocked unconscious, she was kept on life support for several days before succumbing to her injuries.

Howard Cooper - a spokesman for the company, which rents out party rides like the climbing wall - said yesterday that the indictment has no merit.

But Bristol District Attorney Sam Sutter said the company failed to follow several safety regulations. The climbing wall had not been inspected as required, was poorly placed near a curb, and lacked the proper permits, he said. Also, the operator at the time was not properly trained or certified in belaying.

“Our lengthy investigation into this incident revealed that this company, through its egregious conduct, failed to protect Ms. Sarrette,’’ Sutter said.

Sutter’s office was not aware of any other amusement ride company in Massachusetts facing indictment of this nature.

In 2005, the maintenance supervisor of an amusement ride was indicted in the death of a man in Shrewsbury, but the company was not charged.

Cooper pointed out yesterday that law enforcement officials in the past have ruled out criminal charges. Sutter was not in office at the time of the death.

Cooper also questioned the timing of the indictment.

“While the company continues to express its very deep sympathy to the family of Stacy Sarrette, all that happened here is a tragic accident,’’ Cooper said, “and the company expects that it will be exonerated in any criminal proceeding.’’

Companies have been indicted in deaths before, but the punishment is considered insignificant: a maximum $1,000 fine.

Still, the Sarrette family’s lawyer, William Thompson of the Boston law firm Lubin & Meyer, said the indictment shows the company’s role in the death was “egregious conduct.’’

“They’re obviously prosecuting it because I think they want to send a message that this isn’t tolerated,’’ he said. A civil suit Thompson filed on behalf of the family is expected to go to trial in September.

Sarrette apparently fell or jumped when she reached the top of the wall. The company has contended that signs clearly said no jumping.

But the family’s lawsuit is based on the company’s alleged failure to train the operator, who the lawsuit contends did not properly rig the rope to a belaying tool and let out too much slack, allowing Sarrette to fall to the ground.

Her mother, Ruth Sarrette, said last night that “no matter what happens, it will never bring her back, but we just feel this will hold them responsible for their reckless business practices.’’

“I’m just glad someone recognized they weren’t doing the right thing,’’ she said.