Utah experts discuss safety standards after recent accidents at amusement parks

Posted at 9:45 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-11 23:45:02-04

UTAH -- Three accidents in one week, all involving amusement park rides.

In Tennessee, three girls fell from a Ferris wheel when the car they were in tipped over. In Pennsylvania, a young boy fell from a wooden roller coaster. In Missouri, a 10-year-old boy was decapitated while on a giant waterslide.

At Utah's largest amusement park, safety inspections start every day.

"Every ride at Lagoon goes through three individual inspections before operation," said Adam Leishman, a spokesman for Lagoon.

He noted there is one ride that goes through four daily inspections. The original Lagoon roller coaster is made of wood, and a team of carpenters checks it each morning. Though it was built in 1925, its age can be a bit deceiving.

"There's a section of the coaster that's rebuilt every single year, and so there really isn't anything on that coaster older than five or six years old," Leishman said.

While Lagoon will see roughly a million visitors each year, thousand flock to county fairs and local carnivals each week in the Beehive State.

"If a lot of lights are out, stuff looks like it hasn't been painted in four or five years, the guys aren't in clean uniforms...those are all signs that it's probably a less than professional operation," said Al Scanlan, a ride inspector with Entertainment Risk Management.

Scanlan is in Utah, checking on the rides provided by Brown's Amusement at the Cache County Fair. His inspection is not required by the state (some states do require ride inspections), but instead requested and paid for by the owner of Brown's Amusement, Danny Brown.

"The people that I know never want to hurt anybody," said Danny Brown when asked about the recent accidents.

He said he knows the owners of the carnival in Tennessee where three girls fell from a Ferris wheel, saying they are devastated.

Checking safety records in a state like Utah, where inspections are not required, can be a challenge. Brown's Amusement's safety status is noted on an industry website, the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, as a "Circle of Excellence" winner.

Even in states where inspections are not required, most ride operators keep tight records to satisfy insurance companies.

"They know a bad incident can bankrupt them or put them out of business," Scanlan said.

He compares the recent string of accidents to the reaction when an airplane crashes, noting the sudden feeling that every flight could be in jeopardy. While accidents happen, he says, for the most part he believes rides are safe.