By RAY QUIROGA
Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS
Nicolas “Nico” Benavidez, the 20-year-old seasonal employee who had been working for Schlitterbahn Waterpark on South Padre Island for only five weeks when he sustained serious, work-related head injuries on Wednesday, March 6, is listed in critical condition at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen as of Friday, March 8.
According to Winter D. Prosapio, Corporate Director of Communications and Government Relations for Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts, Benavidez is a well-liked and a popular employee at the waterpark and his fellow employees are taking the situation extremely hard. At a press conference late Friday afternoon, Prosapio, was, at times, visibly emotional when discussing the 20-year-old lifeguard, adding 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 which also resulted in the hospitalization of a second employee at the waterpark. That employee also remains hospitalized but is recovering.
Benavidez, however, was erroneously reported as deceased earlier today 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 earlier this 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.”
Prosapio said that Schlitterbahn has reached out to the victims’ families but they have not responded.
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.
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 did say that it’s not uncommon for employees from one department to assist at another, if their help is required.
Reading a prepared statement, Prosapio said, “Our company’s prayers are with the families and friends of our employees… This accident has been devastating to our staff. The safety of our employees and of our guests is of great concern to us.”
According to labor records, this is the first substantial incident at the Island location since its opening in 2001.