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July 31, 2014

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OSHA fines Cirque du Soleil and MGM Grand in ‘Ka’ performer’s death

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Leila Navidi

Sarah Guyard-Guillot, left, and Sami Tiaumassi perform as “Forest People” during Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” at MGM Grand on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008.

‘Ka’ at MGM Grand

Sarah Guyard-Guillot, left, and Sami Tiaumassi perform as Launch slideshow »
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Sarah (Sasoun) Guillot-Guyard after an end-of-session performance with her students at Cirquefit in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 29, 2013, just hours before her death.

State occupational inspectors have concluded their investigation into the death of Cirque du Soleil “Ka” artist Sarah Guillot-Guyard, who fell more than 90 feet to her death during a performance June 29.

After a nearly four-month investigation, Nevada OSHA has concluded that Guillot-Guyard fell after the wire rope suspending her during the show’s Final Battle scene broke, causing her to fall a reported 94 feet to the floor. The 31-year-old Guillot-Guyard, who had two young children, was transported to University Medical Center’s trauma unit and was pronounced dead from multiple blunt force trauma.

OSHA’s findings, issued this morning, were that the wire rope suspending Guillot-Guyard “was severed due to the rapid ascent of the performer, ultimately causing the rope to be freed from the sheave/pulley and scraping against a shear point.”

In other words, the wire had shifted out of the disk in the pulley housing and was cut as a result of the combined tension of Guillot-Guyard’s weight and the torque from the electric motor pulling her up the show’s moveable stage, which was set in a vertical position. Guillot-Guyard fell unimpeded to the floor below the opening in the stage. Her death was the first during a performance in Cirque’s 29-year history.

As a result of the OSHA investigation, inspectors issued six citations against Cirque and three against MGM Grand. Cirque’s citations included a failure to “protect or prevent ‘Ka’ employees from striking an overhead grid during the ‘Ka’ show at the ‘Ka’ Theater.” This matches reports from those familiar with the “Ka” staging and fatal incident that Guillot-Guyard did hit the metal grid over the stage as she ascended high above the Final Battle scene, which jarred the rope connecting her to her harness.

The report also cited Cirque for failing to “provide proper training for the ‘Ka’ Battle Spearman Warrior employee involved in the accident in the use of equipment and tasks used in the ‘Ka’ Show battle scene” and also for removing "equipment from a fatality site before Nevada OSHA authorized the dismantling and removal of the equipment (38 feet of wire rope that was attached to the victim at the time of the accident)." The monetary penalties issued to Cirque were $25,235. Those against MGM Grand were $7,000.

Cirque du Soleil and MGM Grand are allowed to appeal the rulings. Cirque spokeswoman Rene-Claude Menard said the Strip’s predominant production company would do just that.

In a statement that also referenced Cirque’s internal review of the incident, she said: “Cirque du Soleil completed an exhaustive review of its safety policies and procedures in the wake of the tragic accident involving Sarah. We have redoubled our efforts to ensure the overall diligence and safety of our performers and crew. We have received and reviewed the OSHA citations. We have initiated the appeal process as part of OSHA’s administrative protocol. Safety always has been the top priority for Cirque du Soleil, its performers and crew members.”

MGM Resorts also is appealing the OSHA findings. “We have received and reviewed the OSHA citations and will initiate the appeal process as part of OSHA’s administrative protocol. Safety always has been the top priority for MGM Resorts and Cirque du Soleil, and we continue to work to ensure the safety of our cast and crew,” said Alan Feldman, executive vice president of MGM Resorts International.

In such instances, an employer (Cirque and MGM Grand in this case) has an option for an information conference or formal appeal. Formal appeals are heard by the OSHA Review Board, and if that panel is involved, it could be "a number of months" before the final citations are issued, OSHA spokeswoman Teri Williams explained today.

Apart from the OSHA investigation, Menard has previously said Cirque officials are in contact with Guillot-Guyard’s family to arrange financial support for the artist's children. She added today: “We are still working with the family on the details surrounding the children’s fund. I will confirm once that is finalized.” In July, former "Zumanity" artist Wassa Coulilaby hosted a fundraising show for the Guillot-Guyard children, which was filled with Cirque performers and those from assorted Las Vegas productions. The event raised nearly $4,000 for the family.

Guillot-Guyard was born in Paris and had spent more than 22 years as an acrobatic performer. She was a graduate of Annie Fratellini Art & Circus Academy, named for the French circus clown and actress. Guillot-Guyard joined the cast of “Ka” when the show opened at MGM Grand in 2006. She was once married to “Ka” performer Mathieu Guyard, and the couple had two children, ages 8 and 5 at the time of the tragedy.

Guillot-Guyard also was a well-liked teacher in the CirqueFit acrobatic program at Fit Labs and the adjoining Studio 222 on West Flamingo Road. On the day of her death, the children in Guillot-Guyard’s class performed their final spring performance for their families.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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