Owner of portable rock wall charged with manslaughter

A faulty cable is central to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Thursday, August 14, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:23 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

When Marcus Floyd bought a portable climbing wall in September, the previous owner told him that the center cable had broken strands and needed to be replaced, according to court records filed Wednesday.

The cable was not fixed.

That cable is central to charges filed against Floyd on Wednesday, alleging that he recklessly caused the death of a Jefferson City woman who fell from the wall July 14 at a Mid-Missouri Mavericks game. Christine Ewing, 22, fell more than 20 feet after the cable supporting her snapped; she died the next morning from head and back injuries.

Floyd, 30, was arrested Wednesday morning after a charge of first-degree involuntary manslaughter was filed against him in Boone County Circuit Court. A conviction on the felony is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Documents in the case also state that “the manufacturer of the wall provided copies of e-mails sent to Floyd’s e-mail address, prior to the incident, reminding Floyd to inspect the cables and replace them every year or 10,000 cycles, whichever came first.”

The statement, by Sgt. Shawn Spalding of the MU Police Department, also said all owners are advised in these e-mails to regularly inspect equipment, including cables, via the manufacturer’s Web site and operator’s manual, which can be accessed through the Web site.

Spalding said in an earlier document that the cable supporting Ewing was rusted and covered with duct tape at the point of the break.

The wall was manufactured by Extreme Engineering of California but had been bought used by Floyd. Jeff Wilson, president of Extreme Engineering, said that cables used for climbing walls are able to hold 9,000 pounds. He also said the cables, which cost about $150 apiece, should be replaced every year.

Randy Cole, assistant state fire marshal, said Wednesday that investigators had been aware of such e-mails since the beginning of the investigation. Cole’s office along with the MU Police Department have been handling the investigation.

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane said Wednesday that he had been talking with investigators since the incident but that he couldn’t comment further. He said that he had spoken with Ewing’s family. They could not be reached Wednesday evening.

The portable climbing wall owned by Floyd, who also owns Columbia Climbing Gym, had been at most of the Mavericks’ home games. Under Missouri law, it qualified as an amusement ride because it used a hydraulic mechanical pulley system. Amusement rides in Missouri are required to be inspected to obtain a permit and a license, Cole said. Cole said there was no record of any inspection, permit or license for Floyd’s wall.

Floyd’s attorney, Patrick Eng, said that he was hired to represent Floyd on Wednesday after the charge was filed.

Eng said that Floyd had received advice from civil attorneys to not speak to investigators until he consulted a criminal lawyer, which Floyd could not previously afford.

“He hasn’t had a chance to cooperate with any investigation,” Eng said.

Eng filed a motion Wednesday afternoon to ask a judge to release Floyd on a reduced bond because he could not afford the bond of $50,000. Eng said he hopes that motion will be taken up today when Floyd is arraigned by video at 1:30 p.m. He was being held Wednesday evening at the Boone County Jail.

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