'It changed my life forever:' Survivor of 1986 mall coaster crash wants memorial
'David, Tony and Cindy are dead. I think about it every day'
It's been 30 years since Rod Chayko was flung from a flying roller-coaster at West Edmonton Mall, and it bothers him still that there is no memorial at the site to honour the three people who died that day.
Chayko was the lucky one, the only survivor in the last car that jumped the track on the popular Mindbender ride on June 14, 1986. The car had been going about 100 km/h when it struck a pillar and hurled its four passengers to the concrete floor below.
The Mindbender — the world's largest indoor triple-loop roller-coaster in the world's largest indoor amusement park in what was once the world's largest shopping centre — had also been billed as one of the world's safest rides.
Chayko, a 55-year-old retired welder, lives in Revelstoke, B.C., his once broken body a source of daily pain that he treats with medical marijuana. He kicked prescription painkillers more than a decade ago.
He's been back to the mall several times over the years, on visits with his children and grandchildren. And although he won't ever go on the Mindbender again, he doesn't want to discourage others from getting on the ride.
The crash was "an accident — plain and simple," he says.
But it's one that should be remembered.
'David, Tony and Cindy are dead'
"David, Tony and Cindy are dead and it changed my life forever," says Chayko.
"I think about it every day."
Chayko had been living in Fort McMurray when he and his friend David Sager, 24, of Calgary travelled to the mall for a night of fun. Chayko describes his friend as a thrill-seeker who liked fast cars and had just won an amateur strip-tease contest at a bar a night earlier.
The pair were last to get on the Mindbender and sat in the last car behind Tony Mandrusiak, 24, and his fiancee Cindy Sims, 21.
"I remember feeling it sway and grabbing onto the handle," recalls Chayko. "The next thing, I was landing on the ground."
The crash shattered his lower legs, crushed half his left shoulder and broke his feet, pelvis, lower back and every rib on his left side.
Doctors who couldn't count all the fractures in his legs thought they might have to amputate, but opted to surgically insert metal plates so the bones might heal. After six months in hospital, Chayko stood in leg braces and married his girlfriend, Joanne.
Chayko eventually ditched the braces and doctors removed the plates from his legs. He continued working for 15 years before he retired because of chronic back pain.
A provincial inquiry eventually blamed the crash on a defunct West German company for design and manufacturing flaws. It found that four bolts had worked loose, allowing a wheel assembly to fall off the roller-coaster car.
'To me that's not a memorial'
Chayko says he received an undisclosed settlement from the mall after the accident. "I'm famous but I ain't rich."
And the mall gives him free tickets to mall attractions whenever he asks.
But he has also requested a few times over the years for the mall to put a memorial bench near the Mindbender. Staff offered instead to put a plaque on an office wall, Chayko says.
David, Tony and Cindy are dead and it changed my life forever.- Rod Chayko
"I said, 'No, no,'" he says. "To me that's not a memorial."
Chayko says he doesn't want to make a fuss, but is still hopeful the mall might change its mind.
A spokesman for the mall declined comment.
To honour the anniversary of the crash this year, Chayko ordered custom hoodies, with "survivor" stitched on the arm.
Not every one knows his story, he says, but when he explains that he was on the Mindbender when it crashed, people nod.
"'I remember where I was that day' — everybody says that one," says Chayko.