Seidel's Suckhole Death Not Fault of Rafting Company, Judge Rules

No one denies that the vividly named Seidel's Suckhole offers challenges aplenty to rafters navigating the Arkansas River, as witnessed by the tragic death of Sue Ann Apolinar, who'd booked a journey with a company called Arkansas Valley Adventures.

Jesus Espinoza, Jr., Apolinar's son, subsequently sued AVA, maintaining that the firm had failed to properly divulge the risks at Seidel's. But a U.S. District Court judge has now rejected that claim. Videos, the ruling and more below.

See also: Photos: Woman's Drowning Death in Poudre River Third Since Memorial Day, published June 5

Seidel's Suckhole is a popular subject of YouTube videos. Here's one particularly action-packed example....

...while this one shows multiple people being ejected from a raft traveling through that stretch of the river:

The same thing happened with Apolinar, but with infinitely sadder results.

In June 2011, according to the order penned by Judge Marcia Krieger, Apolinar booked a trip called "24 Hours in Brown's Canyon" with Arkansas Valley Adventures. "She made reservations for herself, her significant other, her god-daughter and Mr. Espinoza because 'it looked like fun and was appropriate for [the group's] level of experience,'" the document states.

Prior to beginning the journey, Apolinar signed a document entitled "Rafting Warning, Assumption of Risk, and Release of Liability & Indemnification Agreement" on behalf of herself and her son, who was then a minor.

All went well on the first day of the trip. But on day two, the raft in which Apolinar was traveling capsized at Seidel's Suckhole and she was ejected. The motion notes that a guide pulled Apolinar back into the raft, but when it capsized a second time, she again entered the water and "was swept into a logjam, became entangled with the collection of tree logs and branches, and tragically drowned."

Among the arguments made by Espinoza in his lawsuit is that "on its website, AVA misrepresented that the trip was for beginners and was safe for families," the motion states. "In particular, he contends that AVA represented that this trip included no rapids rated higher than Class III rapids, when in reality one rapid known as Seidel's Suck Hole [sic] was a Class IV rapid. He states that had Ms. Apolinar known that Seidel's Suck Hole [sic] was a Class IV rapid, she would not have selected the particular rafting trip, participated in the trip or signed the Agreement."

Judge Krieger isn't convinced. She sees no reason to believe that Apolinar wouldn't have booked the trip if she knew that Seidel's Suckhole was a Class IV rapid. Likewise, she writes, there's no evidence "that an AVA employee told Ms. Apolinar that the Agreement or release language was not important, was not accurate, would not be enforced or did not mean what it said."

The release states in part that all rafting activity is "HAZARDOUS AND INVOLVES THE RISK OF PHYSICAL INJURY AND/OR DEATH."

As such, Krieger didn't find Arkansas Valley Adventures culpable in Apolinar's fatal accident.

Our condolences to Espinoza, as well as the friends, family and loved ones of Sue Ann Apolinar. Here's a look at the aforementioned motion.

Jesus Espinoza Jr. v. Arkansas Valley Adventures

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts