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Archive for Tuesday, November 18, 1997

COUPLE SUES MAUPINTOUR AFTER BANDITS ATTACK SAFARI

November 18, 1997

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A Colorado husband and wife are suing Maupintour Inc. after bandits attacked their African safari last year.

A Colorado married couple says Maupintour Inc. should have warned them about U.S. State Department warnings prior to their African safari in 1996.

Chalmer "Bill" West and his wife, Judith, of Westminster, Colo., are suing the Lawrence-based tour company after being attacked and robbed by bandits Sept. 8, 1996, during a safari in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.

A friend who was with them, Barbara Backe, died in the attack on their Maupintour bus.

"What upsets me the most about this is that Maupintour had two of their vans attacked months before we agreed to go," Bill West said. "Nobody told us."

Maupintour's attorney, Rodney Gould, and Gaylen Koons, senior vice president and general manager, both said the company can't guarantee that a crime won't be committed on its tours.

"It would be no different than going to Washington, D.C., where there are pickpockets and things like that," Koons said Monday. "The professional tour managers that we employ advise them not to journey into places considered unsafe. This is a situation that happened in an area that is quite vast."

Koons said the Wests were members of Maupintour's East African Safari tour package, which consisted of a 21-day tour of Kenya and Tanzania from Aug. 26, 1996, through Sept. 15, 1996.

Maupintour contracted the services through its ground operators, Koons said.

"While on the safari, one of the vans was ambushed and the general allegations by the Wests were they were assaulted and robbed," Koons said.

"Their further allegations are they suffered severe emotional injuries and that Maupintour did not warn them of the danger associated with the safari nor did Maupintour take reasonable measures to minimize the dangers associated with the safari," Koons said.

Bandits ambushed the van shortly after 6 p.m. Sept. 8 at a narrow bridge as the Wests and their group were leaving the Serengeti. The bandits shot into the van, hitting Backe in the hip and intestine. She died a week later.

Bill West was hit by stones thrown from the bandits. Judith West was hit in the back and chest with a rifle butt.

"I was sure that they were going to kill us," Bill West said. "They shot one of the drivers and a woman passenger" in an Italian van behind them.

While Backe's husband, Gus, stayed behind to help her, the Wests went on to the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where they learned the State Department had issued warnings about bandits.

Maupintour gave the Wests $750 when they returned for losing out on part of the tour. But the Wests filed suit when they found there had been past trouble in that area.

Maupintour acknowledged that two of its vans had been attacked in 1995. However, the Serengeti spans 5,700 miles and should not all be labeled dangerous, Maupintour officials said.

The Wests signed routine documents prior to the trip that said Maupintour would not be responsible for "terrorist acts" or any losses incurred by theft, "dangers incident to the area" or any causes beyond the company's control.

On Dec. 8, U.S. District Court in Denver will hear an oral argument on Maupintour's attorney's motion to dismiss the case and for summary judgment, Koons said.

Maupintour, founded in 1951, operates 150 different tour programs throughout the world. The East African safari tours have been offered for 10 years and have had about 1,500 passengers in that time, Koons said.

"All I can say is this program has been extremely successful. We anticipate 220 (passengers) for this year."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is toplikar@ljworld.com.

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