Every person who straps on a parachute and jumps out of a plane risks life and limb. But, statistically speaking, skydiving is a relatively safe activity. Lightning strikes kill more Americans than skydiving accidents every year.
That’s what makes the horrific pattern of death at the Skydive Lodi Parachute Center so shocking. The skydiving center located just off of Highway 99 in Acampo “has been dogged by at least 21 deaths since 1981,” according to a story by Sacramento Bee reporter Michael Finch II.
On Friday, Maria Robledo Vallejo became the latest victim. She died after drifting onto Highway 99 and colliding with the back of a tractor-trailer truck. The Colombian national – only 28-years-old – landed along the shoulder of the busy highway.
Out of four skydivers who have previously landed on the highway, Robledo was the only one to die, said Bill Dause, who owns the skydiving operation. He seemed satisfied to conclude that this meant the dead woman bore total responsibility for the mishap.
“It is an issue and we do emphasize that there are freeways there. It’s so obvious most people realize it,” Dause said, explaining his facility’s dangerous proximity to Highway 99.
“The parachute was fine,” said Dause, absolving himself of all blame. “There was nothing wrong with the parachute. Her indiscretion was the factor that led to the incident.”
Dause’s desire to place all the blame on someone who is unable to defend herself reveals a glaring lack of sensitivity on his part. Perhaps this callous streak explains why Dause continues to run his skydiving outfit despite its stunning death toll.
“Nearly a year ago, a woman died after her chute failed to deploy. In 2017, a 42-year-old man also died after his parachute failed to open,” according to The Bee. “In 2016, a 25-year-old instructor and his student were killed during a tandem jump at the facility.”
After the 2016 event, the United States Parachute Association decided to cut ties with Dause, who says he had nothing to do with the fatal accident. An investigation revealed that the skydiving instructor in that fatal tragedy lacked proper licensing. Dause rejected any responsibility in the case, saying the instructor was just an independent contractor.
“They kicked me out because I sold the ticket to the tandem fatality,” Dause told reporters, portraying himself as blameless. Again.
Here’s a hint, Mr. Dause: You sold tickets for an adventure that ended in tragedy. And for some unexplained reason, nearly two dozen people have plunged to their deaths while patronizing your business.
As the death toll has mounted at the Skydive Lodi Parachute Center, multiple federal agencies have raided the business. Dause “laughs off” this disturbing fact, according to a report by Fox 40.
Most people might think about shutting down and going into another business after so many deaths, but not Dause. It’s clearly time for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to step in and shut down this deadly operation. The FAA has worked successfully to help close down troubled skydiving businesses in South Carolina and Michigan, according to a report by ABC 10.
In the meantime, skydivers who value their lives should steer clear of the Skydive Lodi Parachute Center.