Wednesday’s horrific fatal accident at the Ohio State Fair — when the Fire Ball ride broke apart and flung riders to the ground — could fuel calls for better safety practices and stronger regulations once it is determined what caused the ride’s gondola to break free.
One man was killed and seven people were injured in the accident, which led to a worldwide shutdown of the type of ride that was involved, and the temporary closure of all rides at the state fair.
On Friday a law firm representing the family of the man who died, Tyler Jarrell, 18, of Columbus announced it would “investigate the incident and handle the wrongful death case,” according to a news release from Kitrick, Lewis & Harris of Columbus.
“Everyone who knew Tyler is grief-stricken and in shock,” said Tyler’s mother, Amber Duffield, in the news release. “We just need to know how and why this happened, and whether it could have been avoided. We hope our demand for real answers will save others from being hurt or killed because of bad or dangerous amusement park rides.”
Also Friday, low impact rides in in Kiddieland, along with the Giant Slide and Sky Glider that goes through the fairgrounds were reopened, said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Inspection reports for all the rides that reopen will be posted at https://ohiostatefair.com/media-fireball/.
Bruce said inspectors will continue re-inspecting all rides and the remainder will stay closed until all are ready to be reopened.
The Ohio Highway Patrol is investigating the accident.
Investigators will likely be able to determine the cause of the accident despite the fact that parts of the ride came crashing to the ground, said Larry Zavodney, senior professor of mechanical engineering at Cedarville University.
“When they look at the failed parts, they’ll be able to figure out what happened,” said Zavodney, who suspects an unseen crack in metal led to a cascade of parts failures as the ride’s swinging action stressed the weakened metal.
“This looks like a classic mechanical failure,” Zavodney said. “Unfortunately, there was loss of life associated with it.”
The Fire Ball ride had been inspected the day of the accident and no problems had been found.
A ride safety advocate is calling for greater transparency in inspection reports on rides that pass through the state of Ohio or are located in amusement parks.
“I think Ohio needs to establish a database of every amusement ride in the state and have that database accessible to the general public,” said Ken Martin, a Virginia-based ride consultant and owner of KRM Consulting.
He said state regulations vary widely from state to state since Congress in 1981 took away the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) ability to regulate amusement parks. The CPSC oversees traveling rides but does not conduct routine inspections, instead responding only after accidents, according to the Associated Press.
Ohio was among the first states to establish standards for amusement rides after Congress made the change.
“Some states inspect, some don’t. Some states require insurance and some states don’t,” Martin said. “Some states have a good program, but nobody has a perfect program.”
David Mandt, a spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, an industry trade group, told the Associated Press that “strong local and state regulation is the most effective government oversight for the industry.”
“The states need the flexibility to create and enforce laws relevant to the attractions in their state, and that’s what they have done,” Mandt said.
The AP reported that, since 2010, 29 people have died on amusement rides or waterslides, according to reports to the CPSC.
Researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that data on ride injuries was incomplete and severely lacking in details when they compiled ride injury numbers from hospital emergency rooms collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The data did not included deaths, unless they occurred in the emergency room, and in about 65 percent of the cases it was impossible to tell which ride the injured child had been on, said Tracy Mehan, researcher at the hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.
The data showed that from 1990 to 2010 nearly 93,000 children under age 18 were treated for injuries from rides at amusement parks, malls and traveling rides set up at festivals and other events.
“(That) is 4,400 injuries a year, or about one child every two hours,” Mehan said.
Spokesmen for Ohio’s legislative leadership say they will wait until investigators determine what happened.
“At this point, we trust that the ongoing professional investigation will bring conclusive findings, and it’s important that we allow that to happen first,” said John Fortney, press secretary for state Sen. Larry Obhof, R-Medina.
“Until more details from the investigation are brought forward, it is too early to speculate on what, if any, future actions should be taken,” said Brad Miller, press secretary for Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.
Mike Rowe, communications director for Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, is also awaiting results of the investigation.
“Was this a freak accident or was human error involved in some way?” Rose said. “Once that (investigation) is done, we can determine if the legislature should do something.”
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