Zip-line employee ‘not secured’ — police

A 29-year-old Piiholo Ranch Zipline employee was not wearing a safety harness when she was knocked off a landing platform and held onto a zip-line customer for a few minutes before falling 150 feet to her death, a Maui Police Department report said Tuesday.

Police classified Patricia “Trish” Rabellizsa’s death Thursday morning as a “miscellaneous accident.”

According to a police investigation, Rabellizsa was working on the platform when a zip-line rider entered the area “at a high rate of speed.”

“The zip liner struck the springs at the end of the line, which propelled her back,” the report said. “Rabellizsa grabbed onto the zip liner to prevent her from going back down the line, however, the momentum took them both back onto the line.”

Witnesses told police Rabellizsa was able to “hang on to the zip liner for a few minutes when she lost her grip and fell into the gulch below.”

“Rabellizsa was not secured to the landing platform with any type of safety harness,” police said.

Police did not reveal the results of an autopsy done to determine the cause of death.

Rabellizsa was pronounced dead at the site of the Upcountry zip line. Firefighters recovered her body with the help of the Fire Department’s Air One helicopter.

West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey, chairman of the state House Consumer Protection & Commerce Committee, said that a bill to regulate zip-line businesses failed two years ago after a study by the state Office of the Auditor found that regulations were not warranted at the time.

However, McKelvey said that last week’s incident at Piiholo Ranch points to the need for lawmakers to look at the industry and workplace safety. Lawmakers would investigate how other states handle regulations and consult with national organizations to see if there are standards, especially for workplace education and training, he said.

McKelvey called the incident a “terrible worker accident.”

State Department of Labor officials referred a query about the incident to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A call to OSHA officials in San Francisco went unanswered Tuesday.

A call to management at Piiholo Ranch Zipline went unreturned Tuesday, although someone answering a reservation line for the business said it was closed Tuesday afternoon and not taking reservations.

State business registration records show the business is owned by Baldwin Brothers LLC, including Richard, Jeffery, Christopher and Peter Baldwin. The business address is 1156 Makawao Ave.

At least two other Maui zip-line businesses were continuing to operate Tuesday.

A man identifying himself as one of the owners at the Maui Zipline Co., which operates at the Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu, declined to comment.

Skyline Eco-Adventures operates zip-line rides in Kaanapali and on Haleakala Ranch land. Skyline reservations manager Kupono Kamakaokalani said that the number of customers Tuesday was “pretty average,” and he had not heard any customer concerns following the Piiholo Ranch incident.

He said it’s a “standard thing” for zip-line customers and employees to be attached to the zip line to protect them from falling.

According to a report by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Rabellizsa was born in Hawaii but grew up mostly in Sebastopol, Calif., graduating from Nonesuch School in 2002. She sang hip-hop and rhythm and blues at Sonoma County clubs and sold handmade jewelry. She attended Santa Rosa Junior College, according to her Facebook profile.

The newspaper reported that she relocated to Maui in February to be with family and to go to massage school.

State Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs spokesman Brent Suyama said that his department doesn’t regulate zip-line tours, and “I believe there is no agency that regulates or inspects them currently.”

The 2012 legislation to regulate zip lines was prompted by the collapse of a Big Island zip-line tower because of unstable soil. Lahaina resident Ted Callaway, 36, was working to build the zip line across Honolii Stream, and he fell to his death. Another worker was critically injured.

The state auditor’s report found that despite risks inherent in thrill rides, “there was insufficient data of serious harm to the public without regulation.”

According to the October 2012 report, there were 22 zip-line and canopy tours operating statewide at the time.

“Evidence of abusive practices was anecdotal and mostly alleged by industry members against so-called ‘wildcatters,’ facilities that are not constructed and operated per industry safety standards and do not have sufficient insurance coverage,” the report said.

All 22 businesses were required by their insurance carriers to provide annual inspection reports, according to the report, which called the Hawaii zip-line industry “basically self-regulating.”

Another regulatory problem noted in the auditor’s report was that regulation would likely come under the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations’ elevator and boiler safety program.

“However, the department has a multiyear inspection backlog of 5,000 elevators and is not inspecting attractions that fall under its jurisdiction for amusement rides. Clearly, it is not capable of handling its current duties, let alone another inspection program, especially without significant additional resources,” the auditor’s report said.

The Labor Department estimated that it would need to charge each of the state’s then 22 operators an initial licensing fee of $18,000 as well as an annual fee of $15,000.

Another possibility for regulation was the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, but it lacks the capability and authority to inspect accident sites, the report said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at