ACAMPO — The owner of the Lodi Parachute Center is again defending his business after yet another death.
Owner Bill Dause addressed reporters Friday describing the circumstances surrounding the latest fatality, which is at least the 20th death since the center opened in the 1981 — and the seventh in the last three years.
Dause says the latest victim Maria Robledo Vallejo, a 28-year-old from Colombia, had more than 150 jumps and was experienced enough to be skydiving in Thursday’s high winds.
“She arrived about two weeks ago,” he said. “She made 20 some jumps since she arrived.”
The California Highway Patrol says she died when she struck the back end of a big rig trailer on Highway 99.
Vallejo’s death is the latest in a string of fatalities at the Lodi Parachute Center, which has been raided multiple times by federal agencies — a fact Dause laughs off.
“Which federal government raid are you talking about? I’ve been raided by everybody,” Dause said.
In 2016 the center’s plane crashed, although no one was hurt.
Later that year 18-year-old Tyler Turner and his tandem instructor 25-year-old Yong Kwon died after their parachute failed to open.
“Our future was taken from us,” Francine Turner, Tyler’s mother, told FOX40. “We miss him dearly. He was an amazing young man.”
Turner says her son was the victim of poor safety practices at the center.
“There’s obviously negligence going on. There’s obviously something not being done properly,” she said.
Tyler’s death led to the United States Parachute Association revoking Dause’s membership.
“(Dause) himself knows that the instructor was not properly certified. It’s been proven,” Turner said.
Dause insists Kwon was qualified to do tandem jumps, but Turner points to the FAA’s determination that Kwon had forged his paperwork and was not certified — a violation of federal regulations.
“They are not doing things the right way,” Turner said. “There are so many other skydiving you can go to in surrounding areas not far and I would just advise people to go somewhere else.”
Ultimately, the FAA did not sanction the parachute center in Tyler’s death, but his mother says she’s continuing to call for Dause’s business to be shut down.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General does have an ongoing investigation into the Lodi Parachute Center.