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Accidents at the Fair: 'No One Plans for This'

kayla and briley

August 4, 2017 -- Briley Reynolds and her sister Kayla fell 40 feet from a Ferris wheel car at a county fair in Tennessee last year.

Nearly a year later, the physical effects of that fall remain, especially for Briley, who was 6 at the time.

In a federal lawsuit filed in July, the family says Briley, who was in an induced coma after the accident, had a traumatic brain injury. She continues to see a neurologist, has short-term memory loss, and is very sensitive to things like being trapped on an elevator. The family says she also needs a special plan at school because of her condition, which they say has greatly affected their lives.

Kayla, 10 at the time, broke her arm.

“No one plans for this,” says the family’s attorney, David Cedar. “Both parents watched the children being poured out of the bucket onto the ground.”

“You’re going to the fair thinking it’s safe,” her mother, Kimmie Reynolds, said after the incident last summer. “You are expecting there to be certain standards.”

Reynolds says she can’t talk to the media now because of the family’s legal action against the ride’s designer, operator, manufacturer, and inspectors.

Efforts to reach the company that operates the Ferris wheel, Family Attractions Amusement Co., were unsuccessful. A lawyer for the company did not return repeated calls for comment. Shortly after the accident, however, the company told Good Morning, America that “By no means do we take this lightly as our main concern is the safety of the families who visit our midway each week.”

High-profile accidents and injuries on rides are in the spotlight after Tyler Jarrell, 18, died last month when part of a ride called Fire Ball at the Ohio State Fair snapped and threw him and others into the air.

Jarrell was killed, and seven others were injured. His death is one of 22 fatalities at all amusement attractions since 2010, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is investigating this latest accident. The agency has jurisdiction over fairs and other amusement operations that move from one place to another.

Data Difficult To Come By

While deaths and severe accidents are rare, safety advocates say exact numbers are hard to come by because there is no national oversight of ride safety and no way to report incidents on a national level.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks injuries reported by doctors in emergency rooms.

After the July incident in Ohio, Amusements of America, the company that operates all rides at the Ohio State Fair, said the Fire Ball’s manufacturer ordered similar rides at other locations shut down. The Associated Press says there were 11 operating in the U.S. 

The decision to close similar rides, Amusements of America said, “indicates that this is an issue with a specific ride and not the ride operator or inspectors.”

The manufacturer of the Fireball ride, Netherlands-based KMG, said in a statement on its Facebook page on August 7 that the ride was 18 years old. The company says “excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years. This finally led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation.”

Millions 'Safely Enjoyed' Rides

In a 2015 report, the International Association for Amusement Parks said about 335 million guests “safely enjoyed” 1.6 billion rides at 400 U.S. amusement parks and fairs. The trade association says your chance of being seriously injured on a theme park ride is one in 16 million.

Other accidents include:

  • A 10-year-old boy who died at a Kansas City water park in 2016 when he slid off what was billed as the world’s tallest water slide
  • An 11-year-old girl whose scalp was ripped off in 2016 when her hair got caught on a ride at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Omaha, NE
  • A girl who died in 2013 after falling 75 feet off a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas
  • A 13-year-old girl whose feet were severed when a cable snapped on a ride at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, KY, in 2007

“I started in 1994, and here it is 2017 and we are still killing people on amusement rides and no one cares,” says Ken Martin, a safety analyst and consultant in Richmond, VA, who specializes in amusement and entertainment venues. He says there isn’t enough oversight of amusement park rides, and states don't work together enough when it comes to regulations and inspections.

Bob Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, which represents ride operators that move from one place to another, calls these rides very safe.

“I think if you look at the safety record of this industry and amusement parks and the millions of people riding rides, it is a tremendously safe industry,” he says.

Riding Safely

After years working in the industry, Martin says he would like to see standard regulations of rides across all 50 states; a better way to track injuries, accidents, and near-accidents on rides; and a way for consumers to check the accident history of any ride operating in their state.

Since those things don’t exist, he says consumers should be alert. “You just have to remember when you go to an amusement ride that you can’t leave your common sense at home,” he says. “We are all inspectors before we get on an amusement ride. You do probably have a good sense when something doesn’t look or sound or feel right.”

The family of the 11-year-old scalped on the ride in Nebraska last year launched a petition on Change.org to urge Congress to pass legislation requiring oversight for carnival ride safety. It was signed by 1,300 people.

Had there been a federal law requiring strong oversight and inspection, I believe my daughter would not have been so horrifically injured,” the family wrote in the petition. “The event has left her scarred both literally and figuratively. Lulu will never be able to grow out her hair, she suffers from PTSD and separation anxiety, and we are still unsure about the impact of the severe trauma to the left side of her head. This should have never happened, and it can’t happen again.”

Kathy Fackler started the nonprofit Saferparks in 2000 when her own child lost part of his foot after an accident on a Disneyland ride in 1998. It inspired her to educate the public about safety issues with rides and to better collect data about injuries on those rides.

“Nobody was collecting it, and somebody has to start,” she says.

She has gathered regulations on saferparks.org, where people can check what, if any, inspections are done in their state. And she shares as much information as she can on ride safety, aimed at parents and children.

“You can train parents to look a little bit more skeptically at the ride experience and pick ones that work for their children and be conservative about that,” Fackler says.

Tips For Safety At The Fair

She says mainly, be realistic about what your child can do. “Don’t let them ride alone even if they meet height limits, because height limits are low,” she says. “Make sure they understand how to work around machinery. If your kid is 3 or 4, they may not understand they need to sit in their seat or if the ride stops temporarily that it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the ride.”

She also says you should check restraints, which may be designed for teens and adults and might not fit small children as well.

Other tips from Saferparks include:

  • Realize small kiddie rides can look tame but aren’t always required to have child-safe restraints, so toddlers or preschoolers could fall or jump off and hurt themselves.
  • Don’t lie or fudge to get around height, age, or weight rules for children. They’re there to protect them.
  • Respect the machine. Don’t forget that rides are heavy machinery that you are exposing your children to. So be cautious about what you let them ride and when to let them to ride alone.

Martin says adults also should know their own medical limits. He says study the rules for each ride and check with your doctor if you have concerns. “If you have medical conditions under the care of a physician, you should consult your physician before you get on an amusement ride,” he says.

Also, watch at least one cycle of a ride before you get on, to make sure you or your child is comfortable with it and to ensure it’s not making unusual motions or sounds. “If you see something you don’t like, ask about it,” Martin suggests.

WebMD Article Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 03, 2017


Amusements of America.

Change.org: “Prevent people from dying and being injured on amusement park and carnival rides.”

Patty Davis, acting communications director and press secretary, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: “Directory of State Amusement Ride Safety Officials,” "The Serious Business of Fun."

Saferparks.org: “10 tips for parents,” “Watch children carefully,” “A note for parents,” “About Saferparks.”

Bob Johnson, Outdoor Amusement Business Association, Orlando, FL.

David Cedar, Cedar Law Firm LLC, Cherry Hill, NJ.

Kathy Fackler, Saferparks.org.

Ken Martin, KRM Consulting, Richmond, VA.

Good Morning America.

Consumer Reports: “Kathy Fackler: Working to keep amusement parks safe.”

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