Family fights for change after go-kart mishap

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A mother of two has been in a permanent vegetative state after a horrific mishap at a go-cart track nearly four years ago.

Since then, her family has made it their mission to make sure no one else suffers this kind of tragedy. Now, there is proposed legislation that could make a difference.

Rachel Gibbs’ life effectively ended in 2015 after she visited AJ’s Family Fun Center in Comstock Park with her two young sons, 5 and 7.

She was in town visiting her parents and they decided to bring the boys to AJs.

Gibbs was wearing a scarf, which got caught up in the mechanics of the go-kart. She was choked, and the air cut off to her brain long enough to cause extensive damage. 

She is now in a long-term care facility in England. She cannot move, talk or even feed herself.

Before the accident, she worked as a photo editor for the Discovery Channel, BBC, Getty Images and others.

Her family visits England as much as they can.

“So we see her, we talk to her, and we pray,” said Gibbs’ father, Denis Kluba.

The family filed a suit claiming AJs should have made sure that customers did not have items that could get caught and should have had emergency procedures in place.

“I know that accidents are accidents, you can’t prevent them all, but this one could have been prevented,” said Karen Kluba, Gibbs’ mother.

AJ’s never admitted fault, but they did pay out more than $1 million in a lawsuit. 

Her family, especially her sister, Corri Sandwick, has been working to make changes. That is on the cusp of happening with a trio of bills that will get first reading this week in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Lowell Republican Thomas Albert introduced the measure.

“I think this is a great story of a constituent using the legislative process. She was very persistent, and she did a lot of research, which was very helpful,” Albert said.

The bills would create a system based on one used in North Carolina, which compels amusement providers to participate in a program that gives them a gold star certification.

“We as consumers can also make choices about supporting amusement parks that are going above and beyond,” Sandwick said.“ The idea is that people are diligent and trained in what to look for.”

The legislation would also create a database that shows the details of inspections that would be available online.

“This will be a great opportunity for the state of Michigan to say we care about our people and we care about our visitors,” Denis Kluba said.

They say there is support for the increased inspections, even among responsible amusement providers.

Albert said the program is voluntary for a reason.

“Let’s raise up the safety standards. Let’s raise up the training standards for those that are employed there. Let’s not try to come in with a heavy hand and regulate them out of business,” Albert said.

Sandwick said she had to deal with the political reality.

“I would love to see it be just be made law, but at the same time, I am in support of the way that we’re going about this right now,” Sandwick said.

Denis Kluba says if the gold star gives them a competitive advantage, the industry will be more willing to improve.

As a Trump Republican, Albert said he was not anxious to propose raising fees.

But in this case, there has not been a fee increase since 1960 and the gradual increase will ensure that inspections are on the job and permits are issued promptly.

The family believes that had this legislation been in place, Gibbs might still be the active, vibrant woman they remember.

“I have to do something that’s going to make a horrible situation do some good,” Karen Kluba said. “Hopefully save someone else from this kind of pain and tragedy in their lives. Our goal is to do that.”

Sandwick plans to stay involved as the bills go through the legislature.

“I’m happy with where we’re at right now. I am tenacious. I don’t know that I’m done,” Sandwick said.

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