Ohio State Fair tragedy: Maker says gondola carrying riders broke off; ride passed inspection that day


A Dutch manufacturer has ordered ride operators worldwide to cease operations of the type of amusement park ride that killed a man and injured seven other people Wednesday at the Ohio State Fair.

The ride has passed safety inspections the day of the accident.

“In the accident a passenger-carrying gondola detached from the supporting sweep arm” of the Fire Ball, according to Albert Kroon, product manager for KMG International of The Netherlands. As it broke apart in mid-air, the gondola and riders were flung to the ground.

Operators of the ride, as well as one called Move-it, “are instructed to cease operation of the ride until further notice” as the company investigates the accident, Kroon said in a news release.

  • 1 killed, 7 hurt when gondola carrying passengers breaks off from The Fire Ball ride
  • Ohio State Fair gates reopened at 9 a.m. Thursday
  • Gov. John Kasich orders all rides shut down until they are inspected again
  • Kasich said inspection records for all fair rides will be made available
  • Ohio State Fair the day after ride accident

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>>Five things to know about the Fire Ball ride

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>>Read the safety inspection report on the Fireball ride

On Friday, Franklin County Coroner released a preliminary autopsy report for the 18-year-old who died Wednesday after a ride malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair.

Dr. Anahi Ortiz said blunt force injuries to the head, trunk and lower extremities are the preliminary results in the investigation into the death of Tyler Jarrell. 

Jarrell was pronounced dead at the fairgrounds. Seven other people were injured. 

Jarrell was going into his senior year at Franklin Heights High School and had recently signed up to join the United State Marine Corps.

The ride operator, Amusements of America, issued a statement Thursday through a public relations firm, saying the ride was inspected by the company 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.”

Wednesday was the opening day of the fair.

RELATED: County fairs confident in safety, parents uneasy, after state tragedy

A full investigation of the ride and accident is ongoing, said Col. Paul Pride, Ohio State Highway Patrol superintendent.

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 of the state fair’s rides will remain shut down until all have been re-inspected and deemed safe. The midway is closed and inaccessible to the public.

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.

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Witnesses are asked to call a hotline at (614) 799-6633.

Investigators also are seeking any video clips people have of the ride and have asked YouTube to remove a video showing the incident and bodies being flung from the ride.

“Its kind of disturbing to watch that knowing what the outcome is,” Pride said.

The Fire Ball, also marketed as the Afterburner, features a long swinging pendulum. At the end of the arm, suspended from spokes, are six gondolas, which seat a total of 24 people. The arm swings up with a maximum height of 65 feet, while the gondolas revolve at 15 revolutions per minute, according to the manufacturer’s website.

The ride is constructed on two semi-trailers and takes three people to assemble. Assembly time is three to four hours, according to the manufacturer.

Inspections done the day of accident

The ride was built in 1998, according to the Associated Press. It passed a standard Ohio Department of Agriculture inspection earlier in the day Wednesday and also passed the company’s daily inspection before the accident.

Inspectors review a long list of items, including location and installation, along with structural issues such as pins, retainers, hydraulics and signs of wear. They also inspect the “tub and vehicle,” meaning the place where the riders are held in place, looking at restraints, latches, wheels and the overall condition.

RELATED: Ohio State Fair fatal ride accident: What we know now

Electrical inspections include the ride transformer, insulation on wires and cables, switches and controls and ensuring there is no stray voltage.

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. No defects were found in either inspection, according to the report.

 

Ohio law mandates both of those inspections.

Larry Zavodney, senior professor of mechanical engineering at Cedarville University, said inspectors “look for evidence of deformation of metal, or cracks. You look for something that has either stretched, or bent or deformed or you look for cracks,” Zavodney said.

The ultrasonic tests are done to find cracks that cannot be seen because those often are what causes a part to fail.

“My hunch is that that is what happened, that some microcracks developed that were not visible and the cracks grew and at excessive load conditions, which is what this ride would produce, it led to a part failing,” said Zavodney. “When one part fails it’s a cascade and another part will fail and another part will fail and finally something comes apart.”

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. Duwan Dowdy, the ride attendant, signed his training 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 from June 22 to July 9.

In 2014 South Carolina inspectors inspected a Fire Ball ride with the identical serial number of the one in Columbus. The ride received an unsatisfactory mark for “electrical equipment, wiring, fusing, wiring systems and lighting attachments. The issue was corrected and passed upon re-inspection.

Victim just enlisted in Marines

Tyler Jarrell, 18, of Columbus, was thrown from the ride and died at the scene, and his girlfriend Keziah Lewis, 19, of Columbus, was injured.

RELATED: Teen killed at Ohio State Fair had just joined Marines

The Columbus Dispatch interviewed her mother, Clarissa Williams, who said Jarrell had just enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Asked if she was angry at the fair or amusement ride company, Williams told the Dispatch, “I just feel something went terribly wrong, something was overlooked that they should have secured more.”

Three of the injured were taken to OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, and two were released by Thursday morning. One, Jennifer Lambert, 18, of Columbus, remains there in critical condition, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

A condition was unavailable on a 14-year-old boy whose parents did not release his name.

Of the three injured people at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, two patients remain in critical condition, and another remains in serious condition after multiple surgeries. The families of those three released a statement thanking the community for an outpouring of concern.

“We appreciate all of your prayers, and we are keeping those who were injured and died in our prayers as well,” they said. “As we focus our attention on the long healing process, we are asking media and the community to respect our privacy during this very difficult time.”

Governor Kasich visits fairgrounds

At the fairgrounds Thursday morning, Ohio Gov. John Kasich faced one of the biggest mobs of reporters in his six years as 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. He promised to stay out of the investigation and said there will be complete transparency.

“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. His department is in charge of the inspections.

Kasich said despite best efforts to keep rides safe, there are no guarantees in life. He 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,” Kasich said.

RELATED: After tragedies, rides inspected for safety at area fairs

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