Manslaughter Charges Dropped Against Great Adventure Executives
TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) _ A judge on Friday dismissed manslaughter charges against two Great Adventure executives in a fatal fire at the amusement park after ruling the two had successfully completed a probationary program.
David Paltzik of Toms River and Larry Cochran of Chicago had entered a so- called pre-trial intervention program to avoid standing trial on charges stemming from the May 11, 1984, fire at the Haunted Castle attraction that killed eight teen-agers.
The program allowed the charges to be dropped once the men had performed a required amount of community service. By entering the program, they did not admit any wrongdoing.
Great Adventure Inc. and its corporate parent, Six Flags Corp. of Chicago, were acquitted of manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter charges in the fire.
Paltzik was ordered to serve 250 hours of community service, while Cochran was sentenced to a minimum of 300 hours of service. Both said they would continue to work for some of the charitable groups to which they were assigned.
They worked for Boy Scouts organizations and for a group representing burn victims as well as for other organizations.
″I think it did one thing for me. It gave me an opportunity to give back to society some of the things I have been blessed with,″ Cochran told Superior Court Judge Eugene D. Serpentelli. ″It opened up my eyes as to what is needed out there in terms of volunteerism.″
Before releasing the men from the program, Serpentelli said their work was described as ″outstanding and spectacular.″
Paltzik, Cochran and the two corporations were indicted on manslaughter charges in September 1984.
Authorities determined the blaze was started accidentally by a teen-ager who flicked a cigarette lighter inside the dimly lit attraction.
Cochran was general manager of the park from Oct. 13, 1977, to Sept. 6, 1982. He is executive vice president of Six Flags. Paltzik replaced Cochran as Great Adventure general manager.
Before being admitted to the pre-trial intervention program in December, Cochran and Paltzik were rejected twice because the probation department found conditions leading to the fire to be a breach of public trust.
Investigators have said the Haunted Castle seemed to have a number of safety violations, including a lack of proper building permits and sprinklers.
Cochran and Paltzik and the two companies face wrongful death suits filed by family members of the victims in Pennsylvania and Paterson.
A state appeals court is to hear arguments March 18 on whether the plaintiffs are entitled to obtain grand jury transcripts from the companies’ criminal trial, said John Weichsel, an attorney representing the family of one victim.
One plaintiff has reached a settlement.