Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 10:21 AM
Updated: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 3:38 PM
By: Laura Bischoff, Will Garbe, Lynn Hulsey - Columbus bureau
COLUMBUS — The Ohio State Fair ride that flung riders off a mechanical arm and killed a rider Wednesday evening passed a standard Department of Agriculture inspection that morning.
The Fire Ball ride, operated by Amusements of America, also passed a daily inspection and maintenance inspection before the accident, which also injured seven people, according to the records obtained by this news organization.
The ride’s Dutch manufacturer, KMG, is investigating the cause of the accident and say operators of similar rides "are instructed to cease operation of the ride until further notice.”
“In the accident a passenger carrying gondola detached from the supporting sweep arm,” according to KMG Product Manager Albert Kroon. “Our deepest sympathies go out to all who were involved or affected by this tragic accident.”
A public relations firm representing Amusements of America put out a statement Thursday syaing the ride was inspected by the amusement ride company’s staff as well as “independent inspectors” prior to the fair opening.
“Our family owned company is committed to working with state and local experts in trying to determine the cause of this tragic incident,” according to the news release. “We are keeping those impacted by this tragic situation in our prayers and fully cooperating with those investigating this accident.”
A full investigation of the ride and accident is ongoing, said Ohio Highway Patrol Col. Paul Pride.
A state trooper is among those who witnessed the accident and Pride said investigators are seeking other witnesses, including those on the ride, who have not already talked to investigators.
Witnesses are asked to call a hotline at 614-799-6633.
Investigators are also seeking any video clips people have of the ride. Pride said YouTube has been asked to remove a video someone posted showing the accident and bodies being flung from the ride.
“Its kind of disturbing to watch that knowing what the outcome is,” Pride said.
Records provided by the state of Ohio included copies of maintenance and operations certifications for two people to operate or attend the Fire Ball ride for Amusements of America.
Duwan Dowdy, the ride attendant, signed his certification Wednesday. Luis Benitez, the ride operator, certified his training on June 22. Dowdy, 21, lives in Columbus, according to a background check and Franklin County Board of Elections records.
It is unclear if either of the men were on shift at the time of the incident.
The records show the ride was previously operated at New Jersey’s State Fair Meadowlands.
In October, the ride received a visual weld inspection of structural components and an ultrasonic examination of gondola pins by an engineering company, Soil Consultants, Inc. of Charleston, S.C. The ultrasonic examination is designed to detect flaws. No defects were found in either inspection, according to the report.
State law mandates both of those inspections.
Inspectors review a long list of parts and practices, including location and installation and structural issues such as pins and retainers, hydraulics and signs of wear.
They also inspect the “tub and vehicle,” meaning the place where the riders are held in place, including restraints, latches, wheels and the overall condition.
Electrical inspections include the ride transformer, insulation on wires and cables, switches and controls and ensuring there is no stray voltage.
An Amusements of America Fire Ball ride received an inspection in April in South Carolina, according to Lesia Kudelka, communications director for the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Additionally, a department auditor performed an audit of the Fire Ball’s inspection, and the ride passed audit.
At the fairgrounds Thursday morning, Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced one of the biggest mobs of reporters in his six years of governor. Standing on a makeshift platform near the main gate, Kasich said the Ohio Highway Patrol has his full and total confidence as it conducts the investigation.
“We can’t speculate on what we’ll find. What we do know is there will be lessons learned in one way or another that can then be passed on to many of the amusement parks and fairs all across America,” Kasich said.
He added: “This will not define the Ohio State Fair. The Ohio State Fair will carry on.”
Kasich said he has reached out to the victims’ families and he hopes to meet with them.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels said ride safety is a top priority and inspections are taken seriously but rides are mechanical equipment that can fail from time to time.
Kasich said despite best efforts to keep rides safe, there are no guarantees in life.
The governor said he thinks about those people thrown from the ride and those hit by debris. “That’s a nightmare. It’s a terrible situation but all we can do is what is humanly possible to make sure that we provide the safety and the inspections.”
He mentioned that his own parents were killed by a drunk driver.
Pride said people on the ride and on the ground were injured in the incident. He gave no timetable for how long the patrol’s investigation would take.
All State Fair rides will remain shutdown until all have been re-inspected and deemed safe. The midway was closed off and inaccessible to the public and media.
Kasich pivoted from a press conference on the tragedy to a traditional governor’s tour of the fairgrounds, gobbling down junk food, checking out the butter cow, listening to live music, handing out awards and mugging for the cameras with everyday Ohioans.
He finished the tour at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources area where he spoke with Smokey Bear, viewed butterflies and asked anglers if the fish were biting. In the DNR area one little boy handed Kasich a deep-friend piece of fish on a stick to eat – the governor politely took the offering and then handed it to DNR Director Jim Zehringer to eat.
The governor’s wife and twin daughters did not accompany him. Kasich said his wife took one of their daughters on a college visit while his other daughter was working a summer job.
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