Bonnie Sanders Burney of Wilmington fell 43 feet in a fatal zip lining accident in Western North Carolina in June, more than twice the distance first reported by camp officials, a newly released autopsy shows.
The 12-year-old girl, who went by Sanders, died June 11 at Camp Cheerio, a YMCA camp in Alleghany County, near the Virginia border. Her zip line became tangled in the harness and broke, the autopsy says. Camp officials have said the rope may have melted when it came in contact with another rope.
“The girl appeared to become tangled in her apparatus and the rope between the zip line and her harness broke,” the autopsy says.
That death, and another, similar case in South Carolina, caused lawmakers to take notice of the zip line industry, which is not regulated by the state of North Carolina, even as the attractions grow in popularity. Zip lines are specifically excluded from the list of amusement rides regulated by North Carolina’s Department of Labor.
Those in the industry have defended the safety of commercial zip lines. Insurance coverage for operators typically requires safety inspections.
After Sanders’ death, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill sponsored by Ted Davis of New Hanover County to require the Department of Labor to study whether zip lines should be regulated. The results of the study are due by Feb. 15.
Sanders’ parents did not return messages seeking comment on the autopsy report, and it’s unclear whether they intend to sue Camp Cheerio or the zip line’s builder. The report said the possibility of litigation was one of the reasons the medical examiner requested the autopsy. A search of North Carolina civil court records did not turn up a lawsuit.
After the incident, David Ozmore, president of the YMCA of High Point, which runs Camp Cheerio, said that a section of the rope melted as a result of friction, possibly from another rope.
Officials with Camp Cheerio couldn’t be reached Monday.
Langston Taylor and researcher Maria David contributed.