Zip Line Worker Death ‘Never Should Have Happened,' Says San Diego Attorney

San Diego attorney Bill Berman is not directly connected to this case but settled a suit against another zip line operator three years ago after a serious injury accident in Escondido

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Family friends and coworkers weathered the midday heat on Friday to serve up fish tacos in a parking lot on the Rincon Indian Reservation to raise money for the funeral of a local zip line worker who fell to his death last weekend.

The accident on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley made national headlines, and it seems there is no shortage of people who cared for the victim.

An online fundraiser for 34-year-old Joaquin Romero's funeral is already more than $14,000 over its goal.

The Medical Examiner's Office says Romero died while trying to help a customer who had just finished the course at the La Jolla Zip Zoom Zip Line.

A San Diego attorney says it never should have happened.

"That incident should never have occurred," attorney Bill Berman said. "Numerous safety protocols were breached that resulted in this tragedy. The operator should have been clipped onto the line himself wearing a safety harness. It’s fundamental operational rules."

Berman is not directly connected to this case but settled a suit against another zip line operator three years ago after a serious injury accident in Escondido.

He says not only are riders always supposed to be harnessed and clipped in, but ride attendants themselves need to be clipped in and harnessed at all times, even when on the receiving platform.   

Joaquin Romero was working at the La Jolla Zip Zoom outdoor attraction in Pauma Valley when he fell

"There was obviously a breakdown in policies and procedures," Berman said.

NBC 7 reached out to the zip line operator, but they have not responded. The road to the attraction remained closed on Friday.

Berman suspects that's because many zip lines are standalone rides — meaning they're not part of an amusement park, which he says makes them less likely to get a visit from a state OSHA inspector.  

"So the problem we see with the zip line rides is they’re not well-regulated," he explained.

"We, as the general public, place a great deal of trust into the ride operators and the owners of these ride attractions."

According to the co-author of a study looking at zip line injuries, there were only 10 commercial zip lines in the U.S. in 2001. Today, 57 commercial zip line courses operate in the state of California alone, which only started regulating them in 2014.  

"These are amusement rides," Berman said. "They’re popular. They’re fun. They’re exciting, so it’s really important that these ride owners and operators do their utmost to ensure these rides are being properly maintained and properly used."

Because the La Jolla Zip Zoom Zip Line is on tribal lands, it is not subject to Cal OSHA inspections. That responsibility falls under federal OSHA. NBC 7 asked them for a copy of the ride's latest inspection and are still waiting to hear back.

The La Jolla Zip Zoom Zip Line advertises itself as the longest zip line course "of its kind" in California. Its course is more than a mile long, reaches 55 mph and heights more than 2,700 feet off the ground.

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