Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Geza Szenes testified yesterday that he would not
have brought his wife, shown on video on the left,
and his son to Sacred Falls if he had known
about the dangers there.

Sacred Falls
survivor critical
of alerts

He testifies that the state did
not provide adequate warning
for possible falling rocks

By Treena Shapiro

There were no adequate warnings about the potential for rockfalls at Sacred Falls before the May 9, 1999, tragedy that killed his wife and fractured the skull of his 7-year-old son, Geza Szenes said yesterday.

Szenes, of Alberta, Canada, testified that he would not have brought his son and wife Terri Zerebeski to Sacred Falls if he had known that the hike would end at a waterfall in a narrow valley with steep walls, where there was a potential for falling rocks.

However, Szenes' son Colin, now 9, testified in a deposition last November, saying he had seen warning signs and could be heard in a video saying "flash flood, falling rocks" as his family began the Sacred Falls hike.

Szenes, 45, is the first of 31 survivors and family members of the deceased to testify in the trial on their allegations that the state failed to adequately warn the public of the potential for rockfalls and other hazards.

They accuse the state of negligence for opening the park, failing to enforce permits given to vendors near the park gates and failing to limit access to the park after injuries from falling rocks occurred, including the death of a 4-year-old girl in January 1982.

The state contends that rockfalls cannot be predicted or prevented and visitors are warned of the potential dangers and assume the risk if they choose to enter the park.

Szenes said the Hawaii guidebook that his wife read only mentioned the possibility of flash-flooding.

A vendor from the Hawaii Wilderness Society, who had a large table and umbrella set up near the park's front gate, also mentioned the potential for flooding, but said it was a clear day and assured him that there was no danger on the hike, Szenes said. "He said that it was very safe."

Szenes said he was also reassured because the hike was in a state park, which he thought implied it was a safe area that was well maintained and looked after.

The only sign Szenes said he recalled seeing was one that said that the flash flood warning system was out of order.

Szenes said that as the family and their friends were leaving the waterfall, he heard "a very loud crack. It sounded like a gunshot with some echo to it."

The crack immediately was followed by a rumble as dirt and rocks began to rain from the mountains, he said.

"If you were right at the falls area, there was no way to avoid the rockfall," he said. "The only way to avoid the rockfall was not to be there."

Although Szenes said he did not recall seeing any warnings, James Kawashima, an attorney for the state, noted that literature Szenes had been given by the vendor mentioned rockfalls.

Kawashima also pointed out that in a video of the hike, the children in Szenes' party could be heard discussing a warning sign at the beginning of the trail. "Obviously, Colin was in the position where he could read 'flash flood, falling rocks,'" Kawashima said.

Szenes said, "I was busy operating the camcorder. ... I was distracted.

"I don't remember seeing the sign."

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