"We were at a friend's house for a gathering, a family gathering, lots of families and children," said Ellie's father, John." So there was no alcohol there whatsoever, no drugs, no drug users. The host of the party wanted to make sure there would be no accidents or trouble, because there were children, and teenagers there. Our friend has about 60 acres of land, and the field that people were going in on the Yamaha was a ploughed corn field. So there was corn stubble, that sticks up a few inches, but it's not very high. The field is completely flat."
The host of the party had been driving the Rhino most of the afternoon, and wanted to get back to his guests and cook some hot dogs. "So a 22-year-old man started taking people out for rides instead. He took my daughter out. He wasn't acting in a crazy way. This was about 8:00 pm," John said.
What happened next was nothing short of a tragedy. According to the accident reconstruction specialists who came out the next day, the driver of the Rhino was making a right turn. "The police think he was doing about 12 miles per hour. He was cutting across the field to the right, and the Rhino started turning left, so he immediately cut the wheel the other way. The ATV straightened up for a second, and then carried on tipping over to the right. My daughter fell out and the roll bar landed on her head. It crushed her skull," John said.
Ellie was air evacuated to a hospital. "She was on life support for 24-hours following that. But the doctors had determined early on that she was brain dead, so we made the decision to terminate the life support," John said. "There was a nurse at the party, as a guest, and she assured myself and my wife that our daughter was unconscious at the scene of the accident. Some of the witnesses said Ellie had her seatbelt on.
I have photographs of the tracks that the Yamaha Rhino made. My wife and I went out to the scene about three days later, and we couldn't believe that the vehicle would have slipped, from looking at the tracks. At first I thought it must have been the fault of the guy who was driving. But now, eight months later, after I've done a lot of research, I feel differently about it. I know now how these vehicles flip," John said.
He is aggressively pursuing Yamaha. "My lawyers have thoroughly checked this out, and talked to other lawyers that have pursued this," said John. "Personally, I have found 12 or 13 other families that have lost children between the ages of eight and 13 as a result of riding in the Yamaha Rhino. I found one family with an 18-year-old and another that was 26. I went to the Orange County Superior Court's website and there are well over 30 suits documented against Yamaha right now, for injuries related to riding in this vehicle. I was able to locate the first man who sued Yamaha, and he had broken his leg. He said the whole reason he sued Yamaha was so he wouldn't get a phone call like mine. He did not want to hear a story like mine, where a child had been killed riding in this vehicle.
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By his own admission, John is on a bit of crusade. "I would like this story to be told," he said. " I may be able to talk about this in a very matter of fact way, but I can guarantee that once or twice a day my wife and I have major breakdowns about it. To lose a 10-year-old girl so suddenly, is unbelievable."