Family with disabled son felt forced to leave movie theater

By Taisha Walker - Reporter

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - A Huntsville family said they felt unwanted at a local movie theater Saturday night, all because of their son’s ventilator.

Fabian Alexander (Alex) Barahona, 20, uses a wheelchair and ventilator to breathe after he was injured in a car accident. The Sam Houston State University student went to Cinestar of Huntsville to watch the 8:30 p.m. showing of Black Panther on Saturday night with a large group, including his parents.

Yolanda Berahona said more than halfway through the movie, a manger approached her son’s wheelchair and asked if he could cover the lights — flashing from the ventilator — with a towel.

Berahona said the family obliged. She told KPRC the manager returned a short time later and said the noise coming from the ventilator was too loud and disturbing.

Berahona said her husband, Wil, then asked for a refund.

She said she said she couldn’t turn off the ventilator, which her son needs to breathe. So the group felt unwanted and believed they were essentially kicked out of the theater. The group followed the manager into the lobby and called the Huntsville Police Department to help de-escalate the situation.

Natalie Palmer, the spokeswoman for the family-owned theater, said a manager never asked the group to leave.

Palmer said a manager noticed the flashing light on the back of the wheelchair and asked if he (the manager) could cover it with a towel. She said the manager also asked the group about the noise but didn’t know it was a ventilator.

Palmer said a man sitting next to Alex might have felt offended and asked for a refund. To avoid a confrontation in the theater, Palmer said the manager asked for them to step into the lobby.

The spokesman for the theater said it was all a miscommunication that spiraled out of control. Palmer said it was never the theater’s intention for Alex and his group to leave. She mentioned Alex has been a guest at their theater several times in the past. Palmer said the group was issued a full refund.

The theater issued the following response:

"I would first like to apologize to Alex for making him feel unwelcome at our threatre but most of all for any embarrassment he experienced. That was certainly not my intentions. Secondly I would like to extend the same apology to his family. We would appreciate the opportunity to service you are the movie theatre and have you family come back to watch the movies. We appreciate your patronage over the years and your good experiences that you've had at our theatre. It is with great regret that changed last night. We strive to be a family business and welcome ALL FAMILIES. I hope you give me the opportunity to make this right by servicing you again. Sincerly Keith Palmer (I would like the opportunity to call you today.)"

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