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No Criminal Charges in Ohio Fair Incident

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

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Prosecutors announced last week that they will not pursue criminal charges related to July’s fatal incident at the Ohio State Fair, in which corrosion is being blamed for a ride breaking apart with fairgoers on it.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol wrapped up its investigation of the incident and presented its report to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien Aug. 21. The prosecutor’s office announced Thursday (Aug. 31) that it did not find sufficient evidence to file charges against operator Amusements of America or any other individual or company.

Role of Corrosion

The full report from the Highway Patrol doesn’t offer much further information than was already known on the extent of the corrosion. The investigation states that experts, including ride manufacturer KMG International BV, were given the opportunity to perform nondestructive testing on the ride after the incident, and that “it was discovered that a possible cause of the accident was excessive corrosion of the gondola arm that became detached.”

Only nondestructive testing has been performed, in order to maintain the ride for use as evidence in possible future civil court cases.

The report notes that the issue of corrosion on the arms holding the gondolas of the Fire Ball ride, also marketed under the name Afterburner, had not been addressed previously by industry safety bulletins. A bulletin was issued after the incident, calling for all such rides to be grounded and inspected more closely for internal corrosion.

The investigation notes that a representative of the Consumer Product Safety Commission did not present a definite cause after her inspection of the ride, but pointed out the corrosion inside the gondola arm as a possible factor.

Photograph Questions

Parts of the investigation centered on whether a bystander photograph entered as evidence showed a crack in the arm holding the gondola that broke prior to the incident. Investigators asked ride operators whether they believed the photograph in question showed a crack, and whether they noticed a crack in the ride while inspecting the unit before operating it that day.

The operators denied noticing any cracking, and said that if they had spotted any issues, they would have reported them. One noted that defects would be easier to see in person during an inspection than in a photograph. Investigators questioned whether workers covered up any cracking with new paint, in light of photos that showed a paint can near the ride after the incident, but the workers denied having done so.

A third-party inspector hired by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to inspect some of the fair rides prior to operation also denied having seen any cracks or other defects on the ride before the incident.

Inspectors’ Opinions

In a separate interview, troopers showed a photograph of the gondola from before the incident, with the apparent cracking, to Jon Kaufman, a state ride inspector who did not take part in the inspection of the Fire Ball. Asked what he would have done if he saw that crack in an inspection, Kaufman told investigators, “I would have taken a closer look. That’s all I have to say.”

Fire Ball
NAFLAC Safety Bulletin

Many of the eyewitness accounts cited in the report include the sound of a “metallic crack” or “pop” when the incident took place.

Two other inspectors who were shown the same photograph said in their interviews that it was hard to judge from a photograph whether there was an issue worth looking into or not.

Many of the eyewitness accounts cited in the report include the sound of a “metallic crack” or “pop” when the incident took place.

“Based on the information obtained and reviewed during the course of this investigation it appears the ride was inspected and approved for use per established standards,” the report concludes. “In addition, it was being operated at the time of the incident within the established guidelines and there is no evidence that has been obtained to indicate the cause of the gondola breaking free was the result of negligence on the part of the individuals operating the ride at the time of the incident.”

Civil Suits Continue

While the county prosecutor’s office will not file criminal charges, a number of attorneys representing the seven victims have said they intend to pursue civil cases against individuals or companies they feel are responsible for the incident.

Mark Kitrick, an attorney representing victim Tyler Jarrell, who was killed in the incident, told PaintSquare Daily News Tuesday (Sept. 5), “Whether there are or are not criminal charges is irrelevant to  the  wrongful death civil lawsuit that our client, the Estate of Tyler Jarrell, deceased, will be filing against all wrongdoers in the near future. We’ve retained numerous professionals including but not limited to accident reconstruction, corrosion, and mechanical engineer experts to pursue justice for Tyler, and we are doing all we can to make amusement rides safer for the public in the future.”


Tagged categories: Amusement Complexes; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Quality Control

Comment from Thomas Van Hooser, (9/6/2017, 9:17 AM)

The incident itself along wit the existance of corrosion is evidence of inadequate inspection program for live load & dynamic mechanical components. Exiting procedure is inadequate and probably not updated based on age and use of the ride. It would be interesting to know the total time it took to inspect the equipment both statuary inspection and the pre-use inspection by the operator. Prosecutors have not looked deeper into root causes and their conclusions are wrong.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (9/6/2017, 11:23 AM)

Strikes me as yet another case of safety inertia ("But inspections have always been done that way"). It will be interesting to see how the civil suits play out in court (emotional appeals, due diligence defenses, assorted experts of all stripes). Hopefully, though, it will result in changes to both the ride and the inspection protocols that will prevent an incident like this from happening again.

Comment from peter gibson, (9/6/2017, 6:49 PM)

Highway Patrol...really; experts in corrosion. What next. Problem is the ride inspectors don't look for corrosion. Not on the to-look-for list. That whole article is ridiculous. Utter rubbish.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (9/8/2017, 11:16 AM)

Most rides are double inspected before they get the "okay" to start for an event like a fair or exposition: one from the owner/operating company who do regular maintenance, set-up and tear down, and another from the local authority who looks after amusement rides. (I'm ignoring the daily inspections as they are little more than a once-over look.) Both groups are essentially looking to make sure all the nuts and bolts are there, hoses are hooked up right for hydraulics and the ride appears well maintained (no significant visual rust, cracks, holes, damage etc.) and functional. It's a systemic problem dating back to when hollow structural steel (HSS) was not acceptable / not used for much (including amusement park rides) that the inspections don't address interior corrosion. In fact, I don't think most rides with HSS members have inspection ports to allow the local inspectors to check for internal corrosion once the ride is assembled. Hopefully, this incident will spark some serious changes in how the inspection and maintenance of amusement rides is done.

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