‘Her son was her life’: Ohio woman dies after roller coaster ride with son


BRUNSWICK, Ohio (WJW) — Dawn Jankovic loved her family; she was a big fan of rock music and enjoyed the thrill of amusement parks. 

Now, the family of the Northeast Ohio woman who died after riding a roller coaster remembers her vibrant spirit while waiting for answers.

“She was a loving mom… She loved going to different places, parks and all that,” said Gunnar Merker, Dawn’s 17-year-old son.

Merker, who spoke to NewsNation affiliate WJW by phone on Monday along with his father, said his mom loved amusement parks, especially roller coasters.

“She was fine, the whole entire day,” he recalled.

“The only thing we know right now is … they went on the ride and you know, at some point, she lost consciousness,” said Gary Merker, the teen’s father.

(Family photo)

On Friday, Dawn and Gunnar took a mother-and-son trip to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari in Southern Indiana. They rode The Voyage, a wooden roller coaster that both have been on many times before.

“Him and her are both roller coaster enthusiasts … they go all over the place to different amusement parks. That was their thing and yeah, they’d been on it before … just don’t know what happened this time,” Gary Merker said.

Gunnar said he was sitting next to his mom on the coaster when she suddenly fell unconscious during the ride. Jankovic was taken to a local hospital, where she later died.

“I feel bad. This kid witnessed everything and he was there by himself before I could actually get to him,” Gary Merker said.

“She was a hard-working mom … she tried her best to support me in all different ways,” said the 17-year old.     

The teen said his family and Jankovic’s friends are helping him deal with the loss. He said his mother loved going to rock concerts and supporting local musicians. Now, many of them are showing their love and support back to her family.

(Family photo)

“Very, very sweet person, caring … her son was her life,” Gary Merker said.

Jankovic’s family established a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $4,000. By Monday evening, the donations more than doubled that amount.

“We’re trying to transfer her back from Indiana to Ohio, which costs some money, then we’re gonna set up two funeral services; one in Pennsylvania and one in Ohio,” her son said.

Jankovic is originally from Pennsylvania, but moved to Ohio several years ago.

Meanwhile, the coroner in Dubois County, Indiana, where the amusement park is located, said it could be four to six weeks to determine the exact cause of death.

Amusement park officials said the ride was inspected and found to be working properly. They said it was temporarily shut down for the rest of Friday evening out of respect for what happened.

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