GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A family outing at a local go-kart track left a beloved daughter, sister and mother of two in a permanent vegetative state for the last three years.
Go-kart tracks are regulated by the State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, but that regulation is limited to approving the construction and engineering of the track and there is no real oversight or tracking of safety.
The family of Rachel Gibbs wants that to change.
“We want to change things, I don’t want anyone in this world to go through the pain that our family has gone through,” said Karen Kluba, mother of Rachel Gibbs.
Gibbs lives in England where she worked as a photo editor for the Discovery Channel, BBC, Getty Images and others. She was in Grand Rapids with her husband and 5- and 7-year-old sons visiting her sister and parents who live in West Michigan.
“We’ve lost someone who was so amazing that we’ll never be able to have again, her children will never have her as their mother again,” Kluba said.
Gibbs’ life effectively ended Aug. 25, 2015, an unusually brisk August day that led Gibbs and her mother to wear scarves that day.
“Two people getting on with scarves should have been told or asked to remove them,” said Corri Sandwick, sister of Rachel Gibbs.
The family said the received no instruction that day.
Gibbs’ mother saw the scarf flapping in the wind and worried that it would get caught.
“I was screaming the whole time, trying to help and couldn’t,” Kluba said. “Well, I saw it go into the wheel.”
They say the attendants were not paying attention to the riders.
The scarf was made of an ephemeral material that ripped away, but the damage was done, the air was cut off to her brain but she managed to get out.
After she went down, a stranger trained in CPR administered help to Gibbs.
“And then (Rachel) stood up and was clutching at her throat trying to breathe,” Kluba said.
They said the attendants seemed unable to call for help.
In its answers to a lawsuit that was settled with more than $1 million going to Gibbs’ husband, Luke, and sons, Dylan and Jake — AJ’s said they tell their employees not to become involved beyond offering a band-aid that the customer applies themselves.
“She is in what’s called a permanent vegetative state,” Sandwick said. “So they don’t expect that there will be any recovery.”
The family has now been working to draw attention to the lack of oversight in Michigan and around the world.
They say there need to be clear safety rules, there needs to be penalties for failing to enforce the rules and there needs to be emergency procedures need to be in place.
“They have to have the authority to shut a place down if they’re not following the rules,” said Denis Kluba, Gibbs’ father.
AJ’s lists itself as an at-risk activity, but there are no records kept by the state that allow people to evaluate the risk, the family says.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to AJ’s owners and attorneys to ask if charges have been made, but they did not respond. Admitting guilt was not part of the more than $1 million lawsuit judgement.
The family looked at the go-karts currently in use at AJ’s and says they seem no different than they were three years ago.
The New York Times featured the story and they have been contacting legislators and regulators.
They want change to be the legacy for the woman who will never speak for herself and for her children and they know that is what Rachel Gibbs would want.
“I think she’d say ‘go for it. Do whatever you can but make it better.’ That’s what I think,” said Rachel Gibb’s mother, smiling through tears.