Kings Island ride flawed, engineer says

Kings Island’s owners were “negligent” and “put passengers at risk” on the Son of Beast roller coaster, according to a forensic engineer who inspected the ride.

In a video interview, Rick Schmizze, who investigated a 2006 accident on the Son of Beast for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said owners of the amusement park have known since 2000 there were problems with the ride.

The video interview was made part of the public record by Warren County Common Pleas Judge James Flannery, who presided over a jury trial last month in which Jennifer Wright of Defiance, sued park owners Cedar Fair after she and 26 others were injured on the ride July 7, 2006.

The jury awarded Wright $76,364 in compensatory damages, and then park officials struck an undisclosed settlement with Wright on punitive damages before Schmizze’s testimony could be shown to the jury.

Kings Island admitted liability in the case and Wright agreed to settle when she learned that Schmizze’s testimony would be made part of the public record.

Wright suffered hip and lower back injuries after the car in which she was riding hit a span of track that had separated where timbers splintered on the giant wooden roller coaster.

Schmizze said when the ride opened in 2000, park owners knew they had a problem because the ride was swaying too much, likely due to inferior wood used.

The ride was shut down several times after it opened, as Kings Island tried to fix the problems, he said.

Former KI owner Paramount fired Roller Coaster Company of Ohio — the firm hired to engineer and build the ride — before the construction was completed, Schmizze said. With a ride as complex as the Son of Beast, Schmizze said they would have needed a computer model in order to correctly fix the defects.

Instead, Schmizze said Kings Island started building support structures on the ride in areas they thought needed bolstering.

But if you try to fix one part of the ride, without a computer model, you can’t know the effect on the rest of the structure, Schmizze said.

“They would fix them in a Band-Aid style and then wait and see what happened,” he testified. “They never really stopped and said ‘we’ve got a problem with this ride as a whole.’ ”

Schmizze said as he was climbing the track on the ride during his inspection process he found a loose bolt, not even in the failure location, that he could spin with his finger. He said it was another symptom of too much sway.

Paramount sold Kings Island to Cedar Fair six days before the 2006 accident. Schmizze said he asked the new owners, during his investigation, about obtaining a computer model, but never got an answer.

When Kings Island’s attorney Chip Finke cross-examined Schmizze, he admitted he couldn’t say for certain a computer model would have prevented the accident.

Since the roller coaster opened in 2000, six incidents involving injury have been reported. After each incident, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees all amusement park rides in the state, has inspected the ride and cleared it for reopening.

On June 23, it was shut down after a 39-year-old Mason woman reported she had a burst blood vessel in her brain as a result of riding the coaster.

Park officials announced Aug. 10 that the wooden roller coaster would remain closed for the remainder of the season.

Wright’s attorney John Scaccia said he believes that his client’s quest for the truth shut the coaster down for the season.