SeaWorld Obstructing Federal Safety Probe in Trainer Death?
SeaWorld’s ex-safety chief Linda Simons claims gross negligence led to the horrific drowning of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau by killer whale Tilikum in February. Amidst the probe into the attack, Ms Simons claims she was fired for cooperating with federal OSHA investigators, a claim that could bring obstruction charges against SeaWorld. In response, SeaWorld called Ms. Simons an extortionist, saying she threatened to go public with “false allegations” unless she got paid. Simons has filed a federal whistleblower complaint.
Simons told the Daily News she was fired for talking too much with the federal investigators who were probing the February drowning of trainer Dawn Brancheau by the killer whale Tilikum. Simons, who started work at SeaWorld in Orlando one week before the drowning, has filed a federal whistleblower complaint. She says that just two weeks before the drowning, SeaWorld held a safety drill that went so badly – staffers didn’t show up or barely paid attention – that it was scheduled to be repeated a month later. “It went so poorly that they stopped the drill and were going to have another one.”
They never did have the opportunity to have the rescheduled safety meeting as Tilikum’s attack attack on Dawn Brancheau took place on February 24, just two weeks after the failed safety meeting. The News continues with Ms Simons account:
When the 6-ton killer whale pulled Brancheau under by her ponytail on Feb. 24, the response was “very chaotic,” she said. As tourists watched in horror, Tilikum dragged Brancheau around the tank, scalping her and breaking her neck as well as drowning her. It took 30 minutes to retrieve her body. Simons claims SeaWorld withheld documents from Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators and blocked interviews with trainers that might have been critical. Brancheau, 40, broke park rules by lying on a submerged ledge in the tank with Tilikum, who had previously killed two other people by pulling them under water. Simons said the whale was considered so dangerous that new workers were routinely warned that anyone who entered his pool would “come out a corpse.” But Brancheau regularly was allowed to play with the orca as if he were “her puppy dog,” Simons said.
And SeaWorld pushes back with their claims:
Late Sunday, after Simons talked to The News, SeaWorld issued a statement saying she has been using “the threat of negative publicity to seek a sizable monetary payment from SeaWorld in exchange for her not going public with these false allegations.” SeaWorld said Simons was fired for “poor performance” during the OSHA inspection of Brancheau’s death, and that she “demonstrated an inability to conduct herself to the acceptable standard of competence, transparency, integrity or professionalism.”
The OSHA report is being delivered to SeaWorld today. SeaWorld has repeatedly claimed it has fully cooperated with investigators. Simons is flatly contradicting that. Watch her appearance on Good Morning America this morning and let us know what you think.