Late woman’s family sues Hollister skydiving outfit

The victim was airlifted after the accident.

The parents of a Tulare business leader who died two years ago
in a skydiving accident near Hollister have filed a wrongful-death
lawsuit alleging that the skydiving company gave her a defective
parachute.
Lewis Griswold

The parents of a Tulare business leader who died two years ago in a skydiving accident near Hollister have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit alleging that the skydiving company gave her a defective parachute.

Jennifer McCoun, 40, who died Jan. 31, 2009, was employed as president and CEO of the Tulare Chamber of Commerce.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court, alleges that Velcro failed to hold the parachute’s steering handles in place, causing the parachute to spin after it opened.

News reports at the time said that McCoun’s parachute opened but started spinning in tight turns until she slammed into the ground.

Attempts on Wednesday to reach Mako Igarashi, owner of Adventure Center Skydiving, were unsuccessful.

Her parents said Wednesday that McCoun survived the fall – “she actually lived for three hours,” said her mother, Marilyn McCoun – but because the skydiving company never dialed Jennifer McCoun’s emergency contact numbers, they didn’t get to the hospital until after she died.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, fraud and emotional distress.

The accident happened about 2:30 p.m., Marilyn McCoun said. Later that day, when she hadn’t heard from her daughter, she called her cell phone but got no answer. Marilyn McCoun called the skydiving business about 6:30 or 7 p.m. and was told Jennifer had been airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose after an accident.

When her parents arrived at the hospital, they learned that she had briefly been revived. But surgeons found a broken rib had torn her aorta.

Lawyer Joel Siegal of San Francisco said a report on the parachute written for the FAA by an expert with 48 years experience cited “poor maintenance” of the parachute. If the worn-out Velcro had been replaced, it “probably” would have prevented the parachute from spinning, the report said.

The report also noted that McCoun was an inexperienced jumper. Friends said she started skydiving the previous summer.

The lawsuit also alleges parachute packers were known to drink beer and smoke marijuana while doing their jobs, and that the center caused the parents emotional distress by advertising no fatalities when actually two occurred – in 2001 and 2002. The claim of no fatalities remained on the center’s website long after McCoun’s death, causing the family additional emotional distress, the suit alleged.

James McCoun, Jennifer’s father, said his daughter chose the skydiving center mainly because of its safety record.

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