Mom of girl who died at Worlds of Fun in 1995 empathizes with family of boy killed at Schlitterbahn

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As more information comes out about what happened to cause 10-year-old Caleb Schwab’s tragic death, the concern over amusement park safety grows.

Some people say that because of the lack of amusement park oversight, something like this was bound to happen.

Caleb’s death is not the first tragic death of a child on an amusement park ride here in the metro. Twenty-one years ago, the mother of a 14-year-old girl waited to pick up her daughter outside of Worlds of Fun after what was supposed to be a day at the park with her friends. Leah Bergonzoni never saw her daughter Ryan Bielby alive again.

“My heart goes out to them more than they can ever possibly know,” said Bergonzoni of the Schwab family.

She is one of the few people who truly knows the hurt that family is feeling.

In 1995, Ryan’s mom says the seat belts failed on the Timber Wolf the night Ryan died. The investigation found no evidence of an equipment failure, and two witnesses told police they saw Ryan kneeling or standing before she fell out of the car to her death.

“I felt angry that such a thing could happen still and again,” said Bergonzoni, who believes Ryan’s death should have been a wake up call for amusement park safety. She finds it disturbing that not much has changed in the past 21 years.

Too many injuries that are not being adequately addressed in her opinion. The race to have biggest, best, tallest, fastest thrill rides creates an environment where entertainment trumps safety.

“When it is just purely recreation and it’s not necessary and the whole premise is to attract people and give them the illusion or the impression that this is just good, safe, fun, there just has to be a stronger sense of responsibility,” said Bergonzoni.

That sense of responsibility due to Caleb Schwab and his family, Bergonzoni believes, should have been stronger starting back in 2014 when the opening of the Verruckt was delayed because of safety issues.

It is a ride, she says, that never should have been allowed to be, “obviously whatever measures they took were not enough or this tragedy would not have happened.”

There is no official tracking of the number of amusement park deaths and injuries each year. However, different websites and agencies claim that the number of injuries each year compared to the number of people who go to amusement parks is low.

Bergonzoni rejects that. She didn’t want to talk about the stats because to her, they mean nothing.

“My daughter was the only person that had ever been killed at Worlds of Fun in all of the years it had been in operation, and all of the thousands and thousands of people that went there. Statistics don’t mean anything, you know, because when your child is the one, that’s one too many,” she said.

Bergonzoni says she has prayed and continues to pray for the Schwab family. She says the pain and hurt from this type of tragedy finds a place and settles in, but never goes away.

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