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'I should be dead': Victims, family react to tragic HVAC collapse at Gaylord Rockies Resort

HVAC collapse- John injured
Gaylord Rockies lawsuit
gaylord rockies
Posted at 9:00 PM, Jun 08, 2024

AURORA, Colo — What began as a day of celebration ended in tragedy for the Markiewicz family and others whose lives were forever changed after the HVAC system collapsed inside the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center waterpark more than a year ago.

Denver7 Investigates spoke exclusively with victims and family members who were there that day.

"It was going to be a celebration for my granddaughter, she was turning 4," said Patti Markiewicz, who was at the resort that day. She can still recall the moment she found out her husband, John, was seriously injured. "My phone rings... it's my son-in-law screaming at the top of his lungs, 'It's John! You need to get down here right now!'"

John's son-in-law, Corey, was inside the pool area when the mechanical equipment came loose. "I called Patti, had her run downstairs because I didn't know... that might have been the last time she saw John breathing," he said.

John Markiewicz was one of six people injured when thousands of pounds of steel ductwork came crashing down from more than 30 feet above and into the pool area. John and one other person were taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

'I should be dead': Victims, family react to tragic HVAC collapse at Gaylord Rockies Resort

John's stepdaughter, Trisha, was another witness that day. "I heard this loud echoing of sheet metal rattling, like as if the whole roof was coming down. And you saw everything shaking," she said. " I could see this enormous HVAC system come like a torpedo and hit him, and he just splat... you see things in a movie and it's not the same."

"I saw him get hit and I just saw... like, life just gone," Corey said. "In my head, I'm like, 'He's gone,' that's how bad that hit looked to me. I've never seen somebody get crushed like that." 

"I get there and my daughter is down on the ground with my husband holding his head together and there's blood everywhere on her and there's soot all over them," Patti said.

Gaylord Rockies Resort HVAC collapse.png

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Minutes later, paramedics rushed John to UCHealth in Aurora. He spent 17 days in the hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries and was treated for a traumatic brain injury as well as several fractures to his vertebrae, ribs, shoulder and arms. His skull was stapled in four places.

John spoke with Denver7 Investigates from his home in Florida, where he conducts weekly doctor and therapy visits for his TBI. He no longer works.

"It's inconceivable I am still here, John said. "I should be dead by what the doctors told us."

A recently filed lawsuit claims the incident was a result of "poor design, poor construction, and poor maintenance." It alleges the owners of the Gaylord and 12 other defendants are responsible for "reckless negligence," "substandard planning," "repeated deviation of approved building plans" and "failing to properly maintain the indoor air conditioning system."

Another victim, a 13-year-old girl from Arkansas, was also struck by the ductwork and knocked several feet out of a hot tub as she tried to escape, the lawsuit describes. She suffered a snapped pelvis, a shattered hip, and internal bleeding.

Michael Burg and Holly Kammerer represent the Markiewicz family and other plaintiffs. They both agree the tragedy should have never happened.

"The conduct was negligent, reckless and outrageous," Kammerer alleged.

"There are so many people and so many defendants, so many corporations that could have prevented this had they just done the right thing and made sure this was safe," Burg said.

"I did get angry," Patti said. "Because [John] asked me... 'Did I do something wrong?' He didn't know what happened. So that's his first thought... 'Did I do something wrong?' I'm like, 'No, you did nothing wrong. We were there for a celebration. They were wrong. Their equipment failed. They didn't pay enough attention to the safety of their guests.'"

Denver7 Investigates has reached out to attorneys for each of the 13 defendants in this case, and their responses varied.

Attorneys for RK Industries LLC, Marriott Hotel Services LLC, Marriott Hotel Services INC, Blum Consulting Engineers INC, CTL Thompson INC, and Johnson Controls INC all did not respond to calls for comment.

Attorneys representing Aurora Convention Center Hotel LLC, Aurora Convention Center Hotel Lessee, Ryman Hospitality Properties INC, Hotel Clean LLC, and HKS INC expressed that it is policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Attorneys jointly representing Mortenson Welbro JV, M.A. Mortenson Companies INC, and Welbro Building Corporation provided this statement:

"Mortenson/Welboro’s primary concern remains with those affected by this terrible incident. They are dedicated to thoroughly supporting the investigation into this matter and offering their insight into the facts and details of the situation. Out of respect for the ongoing investigative process, we won’t be discussing additional details at this time."

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