Jacob Mendiola was the heart of his family — the life of the party, a friend to anyone he came across.
On Oct. 30, 2014, the 14-year-old boy with Down syndrome went with his grandfather Ricardo Mendiola to see “The Book of Life,” an animated children’s movie, at Reading Cinemas in Bakersfield.
Video footage from that day shows a happy, excited and cheerful Jacob at the snack bar with his grandfather before the movie began, but it ended with emergency medical technicians wheeling Jacob out of the auditorium on a stretcher. He choked on a hot dog, causing his airway to become blocked, and his heart stopped beating, said Tim Osborn, attorney for the Mendiola family.
More than four years after the child’s death, his family’s attorney is preparing for the start of a civil trial in which he alleges that employees at the movie theater neither had sufficient training to handle any type of medical emergency, nor did the movie theater have sufficient lighting to ensure patrons were safe within the auditoriums.
The Mendiola family is seeking financial compensation from Reading International.
The civil trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 12. On Monday, Osborn discussed with the Californian his findings throughout the litigation process, including withheld evidence.
Reading International and the company’s attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday or Tuesday afternoon.
EMTs were able to start Jacob Mendiola’s heart again at the theater, but he was on life support for days leading up to his death, Osborn said.
Ricardo Mendiola was CPR certified, as were two other patrons at the theater who began to try helping Jacob Mendiola, but “it was dark and loud,” and nobody could administer treatment to the boy because of the conditions in the theater, Osborn said.
Ricardo Mendiola was “forced to sit there and perceive that his beloved grandson was essentially suffocating right in front of him, and he couldn’t do anything to help,” Osborn said Monday.
“If they had reasonable lighting, they would have been able to render proper CPR, clear his airway blockage and get his heart beating soon enough,” Osborn said. “You cannot imagine a more tragic, gut-wrenching set of facts.”
Reading International management has denied these allegations, but Osborn said there are no policies in place on what to do in the event of a medical emergency or injury. Reading employees, through their depositions, corroborated these claims, Osborn said.
During recent depositions, Osborn said he learned Reading International management withheld crucial evidence — video footage of the incident — and even denied its existence from Osborn. Employees were even told “if a patron has an injury or an emergency, do not call 911 and do not apologize,” as to not accept responsibility or handle an ambulance bill, Osborn said.
Originally Published on the The Bakersfield Californian
Maureen Strode can be reached at 661-395-7491. Follow her on Twitter: @maureenstrode.