New trial date set in case stemming from choking death at Bakersfield movie theater

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The trial for a wrongful death case against Reading International Cinemas, which alleges a 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome choked to death as Bakersfield theater employees refused to turn on the lights or stop the film, is now scheduled for March of next year.

The new date of March 4, 2019, was set during a brief hearing Friday morning in Kern County Superior Court.

Bakersfield attorney Timothy M. Osborn, representing the mother and grandfather of Jacob Mendiola, said he’s been gathering evidence for well over a year and is now planning to go forward with depositions.

In addition to Reading, Consolidated Entertainment, LLC, is listed as a defendant in the case. Osborn said he discovered last year that Consolidated ran the Reading Cinemas location in Bakersfield and employed all the workers there.

The attorney said it doesn’t appear theater employees had any training on what to do in the event of an emergency, or have policies and procedures in place for the stopping a film, turning the lights up or lowering the audio.

“One would think, and I’m sure all customers of this giant movie company would assume, they have these policies and procedures in place,” Osborn said. “And if not, they need to disclose that to people.”

Sherry Grguric, the Los Angeles-based attorney representing Reading, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jacob and his grandfather, Ricardo Mendiola, went to a movie at Reading Cinema Valley Plaza 16 on Wible Road on Oct. 30, 2014. During the film, Jacob began choking on a hot dog purchased on the premises.

According to the lawsuit, Ricardo Mendiola pleaded with theater employees to turn on the lights and turn down the sound so he could better aid his grandson as he tried dislodging the obstruction from his throat. The employees, the suit states, told the grandfather they weren’t allowed to interrupt a movie once it had begun.

“As a result of the defendants’ ongoing refusal to turn on the lights and turn down the movie’s audio, during what was clearly a life-threatening emergency … (Jacob) tragically lost his life and (his mother) suffered the wrongful death of her beloved son,” the lawsuit states.

The suit was filed in August 2016.

By: Jason Kotowski
Originally Published on the Bakersfield Californian January 21, 2018