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WSAZ Investigates | Amusement Park Safety

WSAZ Investigates | Amusement Park Ride Safety
Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 6:42 PM EDT
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(WSAZ) - Last year, Michael Strother, of Ashland, Kentucky, and his daughter made the trip to Kings Island in Warren County, Ohio, 14 times.

In hopes of making even more trips in the upcoming year, Strother’s made the jump to get season passes to the amusement park.

However, even for thrill seekers like Strother, learning a teenager’s trip to an amusement park in Florida turned deadly is hard to hear. Officials say the 14-year-old fell from a drop tower as it plunged to the ground.

14-year-old dies in fall from amusement park ride

The accident at Icon Park in Orlando killed the teen.

“How did that happen?” said Michael Strother, Kings Island season passholder. “Like how did that happen?!”

WSAZ wanted to know more about protocols at parks in our region so, we took our questions to Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Chief of Amusement Ride Safety, with families like the Strother’s in mind.

Joseph Payton: “When you see something like that go on, does that change any of your workflow, or having more conversations about how to make sure this doesn’t happen at any of our parks?”

Davide Miran, Chief of Amusement Ride Safety: “The situation in Florida is a tragic event. Anytime we see something like that across the country we look to see if there are any rides in Ohio that are made by the same manufacturer and have the same type of ride.”

So, we started digging and found the free fall ride involved in the fatal accident was manufactured by a company called Funtime.

Kings Island and Cedar Point do have their own versions of the style of ride involved in the fatal accident, but according to state officials, they are not manufactured by that same company.

We also found the free fall ride in Florida only has a shoulder harness.

Kings Island’s website has a list of safety measures for its drop tower ride. Those measures include an over the shoulder harness and a safety belt in between riders’ legs.

Officials in Florida say they’re asking inspectors if seatbelts could have prevented the tragedy.

“It may be that the investigation will point out that not only the harness, but an additional safeguard which would have been a seat belt, could have saved Tyre’s life,” said Miran.

ODA says as amusement parks prepare to open to the public soon, inspectors will be on site for at least five days a week preparing for the upcoming season. Miran says inspections have two parts. The first is a static inspection while the ride is not running.

“We’re looking at the structure of the ride, we’re looking at the seats and the train of the ride, if you will. As well as, we’re looking for fatigue and corrosion,” Miran said.

The next step is operational inspection to make sure everything runs smoothly while the ride is running.

“It’s one thing to look good sitting still, but you have to be able to move the ride and we watch them operate the ride to make sure that it’s being done so as it should be,” Miran said.

He says the ride operators play a critical role, and the parks must provide the state written documentation that each operator has been trained properly.

WSAZ asked Kings Island for an interview about their ride inspection protocols. A spokesperson said, “Unfortunately, it is not the right time of the season to do a Zoom interview on the subject you are asking about.” – but they did tell us in a statement that reads in part, “Kings Island takes many steps and measures to ensure safety at the park. this includes daily inspections (where our teams look at everything from tracks to wheels, to seatbelts and even the computers that control the rides), winter inspections (where we remove ride vehicles and inspect them all the way down to their frames) and inspections from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Amusement Ride Safety and Fairs Division each year.”

Strother says he trusts the measures in place at Kings Island and has his own dad protocols.

“Especially being a father, when we ride rides, I’m pushing down making sure. I make sure she’s tight, I make sure I’m tight. When we’re going up a hill, I’ll push it tighter on me and her.”

ODA says they are always looking at additional ways to protect families like the Strothers.

“We’re just trying to collect all of the data that we can in order to continually make rides in Ohio safer and that is what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Miran said.

According to ODA, both Kings Island and Cedar Point have one ride each manufactured by the same company as the free fall in Florida - the slingshot rides.

These are a different ride than the one involved in the fatal accident in Florida. The rides are just manufactured by the same company.

We asked both Kings Island and Cedar Point if they plan to have that ride in operation on opening day, which is Friday at Kings Island, but have not heard back.

Officials in Kentucky and West Virginia say there are no rides in either state manufactured by the same company as the one involved in the Florida accident.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.

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