(KMSP) - Two college students are speaking out after they were seriously hurt at the Snowta music festival in Minneapolis on New Year's Eve.
Snowta's promotional video showcases the giant Ferris wheel as the centerpiece of the massive New Year's Eve music festival, attracting thousands inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. One fateful ride would change the lives of two young men.
“The surreal moment for me was I was lying there wondering if I was going to be paralyzed for life,” said JJ Sivak.
Instead of enjoying the New Year’s Eve, and his senior year at Loyola University in Louisiana, Sivak is in his hometown of Duluth going to physical therapy and learning to walk again.
Sivak and his friend, Eli Lee, fell from near the top of the Ferris wheel at Snowta.
“So we were coming around the top on the third time and something, the mechanism, something just kind of gave in the ride," he said. "The next thing I know, our seat is like lunging forward and the safety bar swung open and I'm just trying to grab onto something. We just fell 20-30 feet.”
“As we were coming over, it was almost as if we were pushed out just because of the momentum,” said Lee. “I assume that was because it was going pretty fast.”
Lee suffered a concussion and was knocked unconscious for roughly three minutes. Sivak’s injures are far more severe, suffering a spine injury which required a nine-hour surgery, months of rehab, and many unknowns about his future.
“Instantly, the first thing was just instant numbness below the waist, couldn't feel anything,” said Sivak. “I was conscious for the whole thing.”
“The whole rest of evening, I was completely disoriented. I didn't really know a whole lot what was going on,” said Lee.
The Department of Labor and Industry opened and has since closed an investigation. The operator of the Ferris wheel, Michael Cody of Cody's Rides, wrote in an incident report he "noticed two individuals messing around and was slowing down to remove them when they jumped out of their seats." Cody also wrote “there were no apparent injuries at the time they were both trying to leave."
“I think most people, reasonable people, who see someone lying on the ground, head being cradled, EMT's coming to the scene, loading onto a backboard would conclude there's a serious injury here,” said Paul Gatto, an attorney representing Lee and Sivak. “For Cody's Rides not to acknowledge that is really quite remarkable."
Many in the crowd turned to Facebook looking for answers. One witness described "nobody jumped ... it wasn't high up."
Others believe the injured party goers were too drunk, and somehow caused the accident themselves.
“It makes sense that that would be more believable, but that's the part that breaks my heart," said Sivak. “Why would I jeopardize myself? I never ever would want anyone to experience this.”
Sivak and Lee admit to having a few drinks, just like most other 21 year olds they encountered on New Year’s, but are adamant they did nothing wrong. Now they're trying to come to terms with the new year and a new reality.
“Literally you can be thrown out of your seat at any moment,” said Sivak. “You just have to get back up and work really hard, that's what I’m trying to do.”
Multiple witnesses have told Fox 9 the Ferris wheel was shut down for the remainder of the night. At least one witness was refunded his money.
We have reached out to the organizers of Snowta, TC Presents, and Cody's Rides and no one has responded.