Apex teen's death described as 'freak accident'
Posted September 11, 2006 9:45 a.m. EDT
Updated February 8, 2018 5:05 p.m. EST
APEX, N.C. — The religious camp where an Apex teen died over the weekend promises safe activities for campers in its promotional materials.
Ozzie Vargas, 17, was killed Saturday when he fell 47 feet from a zip line at Camp Oak Hill, which is located north of Oxford, authorities said.
"He went off, and I think the buckle broke off and he just fell," said his cousin, Ismael Vargas, who witnessed the accident. "I thought it was a nightmare. It didn't seem real."
Witnesses said the teen had the line attached to his back instead of the front, as it usually is, so he could fly like Superman.
"All we know is it was a malfunction. We don't know if it was the carabiner, the harness or whatever, but it was some sort of a malfunction. People are checking into that," said Chuck Thompson, the youth pastor at Apex Baptist Church.
Thompson led a group of 200 church members to Camp Oak Hill for an annual retreat.
"This is a freak accident, no real explanation, just one of those things that happened," he said.
Camp Oak Hill director Peter Rochelle said Monday that officials are investigating the incident, but he couldn't speculate on why Vargas fell. His staff is very upset about the incident, Rochelle said.
The 30-year-old camp serves more than 5,000 visitors annually, according to its Web site, which also boasts of the safety measures taken with the zip line.
"Campers will be safely strapped into a harness and sent flying over our 9.5-acre lake. Certified counselors will be supervising this activity to assure the safety of all campers," the site said.
Meanwhile, Vargas' family and the students and faculty at Apex High School, where he was student body president, struggled Monday to deal with his death.
"This is a terrible blow. It's hard for an adult to deal with an unexpected tragedy, but for kids, it's even harder," Apex High Principal Matthew Wight said.
Vargas usually read the Pledge of Allegiance over the school public-address system every morning. On Monday, his best friend read the pledge and called for a moment of silence to remember Vargas.
"Everybody is going to die. Ozzie brought joy for 17 years to many people, but it was his time to go," said his mother, Maria Comploier.
Comploier said her son was full of life and always lit up the room. But she said she doesn't blame anyone for his death.
"It's hard to see your son dying. I was there, and I was able to talk to him and let him know that I was there," she said.