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Parents of boy injured in rock climbing sue Navy Pier

The parents of an 8-year-old Michigan boy are suing Navy Pier, alleging workers failed to follow basic safety protocols after their son fell from the top of a 24-foot climbing wall in July.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges workers did not properly secure the boy to the wall and there was nothing on the ground to cushion the fall, which left him with serious injuries all over his body. The accident was caught on video.

Erin and Gideon Brewer of Grand Rapids, along with their Chicago attorney, Steve Levin, held a news conference Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit and the accident that has shaken the family.

“This is the biggest nightmare of our entire lives,” Erin said. “This is what my husband, George and his two brothers and I deal with every day and we don’t want it to happen again to anyone.”

The brewer said George was making progress in his recovery. After the fall, he spent six days at Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he underwent several surgeries. He has since returned to school in Michigan, starting with half days and gradually working his way up to full days.

“He’s getting there, but mentally, emotionally, it’s still very difficult,” Erin said.

In a statement to the Tribune, Navy Pier officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We have not seen the lawsuit. It is our usual practice not to comment on legal proceedings,” the statement said.

The Brewers said they were on their annual summer trip to Chicago with their three young sons. On July 27, they said they took the children to the Navy Pier climbing wall. The parents took the boys to the ride the day before, and father and children all participated, they said.

Erin said the boys “love to climb” and asked them to come back, so the next night they took them again. According to her, this attraction was the “highlight” of the trip.

When it was George’s turn to go up, the attendant strapped him in but did not attach the safety rope, which they had done the day before, according to the parents. Levine said the attendant ordered George to press the horn, which serves as the signal to begin the climb.

George began climbing the wall and Erin began videotaping him, the Brewers’ attorneys said in a news release. Unaware that he was not properly provided for, the family cheered him on, the release said.

After reaching the top, George let go of the wall to descend and plunged 24 feet onto the concrete surface, the release said. A lifeline, if attached, would have helped him descend safely, Levine said. There was also no mattress or net to cushion potential falls, according to Levine.

Erin let out a loud gasp as she saw him fall to the ground, cutting off the video. The Brewer twins, who were 5 at the time, also witnessed their brother’s fall, she said.

“They saw everything, it was inexplicable,” she said.

The parents said they thought their son was dead and screamed for help.

According to Levin, it was clear that the boy was seriously injured in the fall, but Navy Pier officials did not seek medical attention. Bystanders called 911 and helped the family until paramedics arrived, he said.

The 8-year-old was taken by ambulance to Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he underwent treatment and three surgeries, his mother said. She said he had another surgery after they returned to Grand Rapids.

Describing his injuries, which extended from his face to his ankles, Erin said George broke his tibia, femur, pelvis and chin. He also had broken teeth and a concussion.

He was confined to a wheelchair for several months, his parents said. He is now able to walk with the help of a walker, the attorneys said in a statement. He reportedly continues to receive intensive physical therapy.

George faces surgery in January, and more surgeries are expected, the parents said. As for Erin, she said it hurt her to see her child unable to enjoy the activities he used to do, such as playing soccer or running around with his brothers and friends.

“It’s outrageous because it was 100% preventable,” Erin said. “This should never have happened.”

Erin said returning to Chicago brought back memories of his early days and weeks of recovery, seeing him “in agony.”

“To hear your child ask if he’s going to die, he’s just an 8-year-old boy,” she said. “His innocence was taken away, as it were. It was supposed to be fun, and it couldn’t have been worse.’

In statements obtained by the attorney’s office, Levin said operators admitted to authorities that they did not properly secure the boy. They also claimed they didn’t see it rise or fall, saying they were “distracted,” according to Levine.

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“The safety of children in this type of attraction is a zero-tolerance matter,” Levine said. “There is no excuse to say they are distracted. There was no excuse to say that it was going to close. You shouldn’t blame an 8-year-old child or parents for something fundamental. They took it upon themselves to make sure George was securely attached to the wall, but failed to do so.’

Levin questioned Navy Pier’s alleged lack of response to the incident, which occurred about four months ago. He said Navy Pier officials never reached out to check on George after the incident.

“Don’t they know what happened?” said Levin. “Didn’t they investigate? … There are many questions that Navy Pier must answer in this case. I suspect they have an answer by now.”

“We don’t know what permanent damage may have been done to his mind and body. But I will say this, whatever this injury is, these parents’ commitment to George will make it as minimal as possible.”

In addition to Navy Pier, the lawsuit named Spectrum Sports and two employees who operated the climbing wall. Gideon Brewer said he hopes to hold Navy Pier accountable for what happened to their son and prevent it from happening to another family.

“This is the main tourist destination in the country. … We entrusted them with the custody of our son, and they failed,” he said. “This is just a warning to other parents, no matter where you are, you can’t let your guard down.”


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