By RAY QUIROGA
Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS
Life support was terminated over the weekend for Nicolas “Nico” Benavides, the 20-year-old Schlitterbahn Waterpark employee who was declared brain dead Saturday evening after suffering severe head injuries due to a work-related incident on Wednesday.
Benavides began working at the South Padre Island waterpark approximately five weeks ago, according to Winter D. Prosapio, Corporate Director of Communications and Government Relations for Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts.
“It is with deep sadness that we report that our employee, Nico Benavides, who was injured during a March 6th maintenance accident at Schlitterbahn Resort in South Padre, has died. Our investigation into what happened is ongoing; at this point we have no further details. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our employee – we will continue to support them during this difficult time,” Prosapio stated in a press release issued Monday morning.
“Nico Benavides is a member of a family that has been part of our park family for generations. Their family helped build this park. Our families have known one another for years,” she added. “This tragedy has been devastating to all of us at Schlitterbahn. We are determined to find out what happened and to do all we can to ensure it never happens again. The safety of our employees and guests is of paramount importance to us.”
A second individual injured during the accident is recovering and has been discharged from the hospital. The 27-year-old person’s name has not been released.
Headed into the weekend, Benavides was being kept alive to allow medical staff the opportunity to find recipients for his organs, which his family agreed to donate. It is believed that anywhere between five to seven individuals will benefit from Benavides’ organs.
According to Prosapio, Benavides was a well-liked and popular employee at the waterpark and his fellow employees are taking the situation extremely hard. At a press conference late Friday afternoon, Prosapio said that grief counselors were called on-site to help employees cope with this tragedy.
As for the incident itself, Prosapio said that OSHA and Schlitterbahn are investigating the matter, hoping to discover the exact details surrounding the incident.
Benavides had been erroneously reported as deceased on Friday by officials at the Department of Labor. Prosapio said that, according to the law, businesses are required to notify OSHA when any worker is killed in a work-related incident. She said that on Friday morning, Schlitterbahn received erroneous information about Benavidez’s condition and that the park reported him as deceased to OSHA, at which point, OSHA automatically launched an investigation to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the incident.
“In hindsight, we should have contacted the hospital to verify the information we were receiving from what we thought were reliable sources,” Prosapio said. “Instead we decided to contact OSHA and do what we thought was responsible.”
While Prosapio could not divulge specific details as to how the incident occurred, she did say that it happened in an area behind the scenes, and involved routine maintenance of a wave generator.
“A wave generator is a very heavy piece of equipment; however, I couldn’t say what specific type of maintenance they were doing at this time. That is why we are undergoing this investigation, to try and learn as much as possible,” Prosapio said.
Sources, however, are saying that the incident may have stemmed from an overhead door that suddenly swung shut, and collapsing on the victims.
Prosapio also did not know if the recently hired lifeguard had specific training for the task, but she did say that the victims were working with a team that did have training to do what the work entailed. She added that it’s not uncommon for employees from one department to assist at another, if their help is required.
According to labor records, this is the first substantial incident at the Island location since its opening in 2001.