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Ohio spends $1.17 million to inspect amusement rides

State inspectors are climbing over roller coasters, bouncy houses, go-cart tracks and other amusement rides this summer to inspect 3,326 pieces of equipment at 328 portable ride companies and 307 parks and tracks across Ohio.

In Ohio, there have been five deaths and 46 accidents on amusement rides since 2008, according to state records. Since 2008, the state has spent more than $6.35 million on the ride inspection program. The division budget this year is $1.17 million.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s amusement ride safety program calls for annual licensing and inspections of all equipment before the public starts riding and for periodic surprise inspections as well.

Inspectors also investigate mishaps or accidents on rides, such as the July 19 incident on the Shoot the Rapids log ride at Cedar Point in Sandusky. A boat on the thrill ride rolled backward down a hill and flipped over in water.

Ohio Chief Ride Inspector Mike Vartorella said that incident is still under investigation.

“Cedar Point officials are currently investigating the incident and have reported it to state of Ohio officials. Shoot the Rapids will remain closed until park officials and inspectors from the state of Ohio complete their review. No further information is available at this time,” said Cedar Point spokesman Bryan Edwards.

Six riders were treated for minor injuries at the scene while the seventh was briefly treated at an area hospital but not admitted. Ohio law defines an amusement ride accident as an incident that requires a rider to be admitted to the hospital overnight. It happened the same day as a woman fell to her death out of a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas near Dallas.

The inspectors in Ohio have experience as mechanics or engineers, often having worked at amusement parks before joining the state department. Vartorella said a carousel or another ride can have 2 million safe turns but one problem can draw enormous public concern.

“We treat everything the same. Everything is looked at as if we’re looking at it for the first time,” said Vartorella as two of his team members crawled over the “Tornado” ride in advance of the Ohio State Fair opening on Wednesday. “We put absolutely no time limits on an inspection. Whatever it takes to get it right. We’re not concerned about it opening, we’re concerned that it’s safe.”

Inspectors Ron Dean and Jon Kaufman, both of whom worked at major amusement parks before the state hired them, spent more than 30 minutes looking at stress points, brackets, seat safety bars and other parts of the Tornado, which spins and tilts up to 32 riders at a time. Kaufman said some rides take hours to inspect while others take days.

The riding public needs to take some responsibility for ride safety too, said Vartorella. If someone has a heart condition or back problem or doesn’t meet height requirements, they should skip the ride, he said. And state requires riders to follow ride rules.

“You are not to act in a manner that will hurt you or anybody else who is on that equipment,” he said.

Kings Island spokesman Don Helbig did not return several messages seeking information about the park’s safety procedures.

The Cincinnati area park’s most high-profile recent safety issue was with the Son of Beast, a wooden roller coaster that debuted in 2000 but was linked to six different incidents of injuries. The incidents led to multiple closures and design changes. Last fall, Kings Island dismantled the coaster, three years after it closed for the final time.

Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.

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