FAIRGROUNDS — The roller coaster had barely entered its first turn when a loud bang sounded and the toddler-sized ride slammed to a halt.
Lorne Symes, whose two children were on the ride, rushed to pull his 3-year-old daughter out of her seat. The sudden stop had caused her to hit her face on the seat’s handlebar. It wasn’t clear what caused the roller coaster — one of several kid-focused rides at the Kitsap County Fair and Stampede’s carnival — to stop so abruptly.
Symes, who lives in Portland but is starting a business in Kitsap, said officials from the fair and Davis Amusement Cascadia — the company that operates the rides — took a report and first responders came to check on his daughter’s injuries, which were minor.
“But what I wasn’t really happy about was these rides were falling apart,” Symes said. “I didn’t really feel like they were safe for the kids.”
Patrons of the Kitsap County Fair and Stampede have voiced concerns about the safety of many of the amusement park rides at the fair’s carnival in the wake of an Aug. 26 accident on the Tilt-a-Whirl ride that left three children with minor injuries.
Carnival rides in poor condition
The Tilt-a-Whirl is a circular ride with several cars that rotate around a platform, which can be raised or lowered as it spins. The cars are attached to individual bearings that cause them to spin independently of the platform.
On Sunday, one of the cars came free from the point where it attaches to the platform, crashed into a railing and tipped over. Injuries were limited to bumps and bruises, but the malfunction kicked off a conversation on social media about the condition and quality of the fair’s carnival rides.The Tilt A Whirl carnival ride at the Kitsap County Fair. (Photo: Miles David)
Davis Amusement Cascadia Inc., the Oregon-based operator, shut down the ride after the accident. Washington’s Department of Labor and Industry revoked Davis’ permit for the Tilt-a-Whirl and mandated another inspection.
It wasn’t the first incident with the Tilt-a-Whirl that fair attendees reported last week.
Amy James, a Bremerton resident, said her daughter and a few friends were riding the Tilt-a-Whirl on Thursday when James noticed the back section of her daughter’s car had come loose. The section, which extends up and over riders’ heads, was hooked to only one side.
“It (was) literally just flying around,” James said. “I had to scream multiple times and rattle the cage to get the guy to stop the ride.”
Port Orchard resident Lauren Staley was at the fair Thursday with her daughters. While standing in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl, Staley said three teenagers in front of her were directed to sit in a car that didn’t have a back piece at all.
The girls eventually got out of the car before the ride began, Staley said.
“They sat down and then made their own choice, no, this is not safe,” Staley said.
The family skipped the Tilt-a-Whirl, but many of the other carnival’s rides also appeared old or in disrepair.
Staley’s daughter also hit her face on the handlebar of the children’s roller coaster as it suddenly lurched into motion, she said. While riding the Ferris wheel, each time their car reached the top, Staley said she could hear what sounded like tiny pieces of metal falling back to the bottom of the ride.
“I know it’s part of a fair, ‘Ha, ha, the carnies,' and you know maybe it’s a little janky,” Staley said. “But here everything was broken.”
Track record and safety
County officials say the Tilt-a-Whirl accident was the first report of an incident on a Davis Amusement-operated ride since the contractor began running the carnival over a decade ago.
After a story about the accident was published in the Kitsap Sun, Kitsap County Parks Department director Jim Dunwiddie said he received several comments from patrons complaining about the condition of the rides.
“It’s four comments more than what I would like,” Dunwiddie said.
Davis Amusement’s last accident in Washington occurred in 2010 on a “dark ride,” according to the Department of Labor and Industry. The Clackamas, Oregon-based company has been operating amusement park rides since 1939, according to its website.
On Aug. 3, a 3-year-old girl was hospitalized after being thrown from a children’s motorcycle ride operated by Davis Amusements at a county fair in Oregon, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported. The girl sustained minor injuries after the motorcycle she was riding broke off and flew through the air.
Davis Amusement Cascadia owner Michael Davis all the rides are inspected daily prior to the carnival opening. He added that injuries due to mechanical errors on rides are rare.
“We get a lot of slips, trips and falls, stubbed toes, just (during) normal day-to-day operations,” Davis said. “I have to think things kind of like this one is pretty rare, rare to extremely rare.”
The state Department of Labor and Industry certifies third-party companies to inspect and approve amusement rides, which operators are required to do once a year. The Tilt-a-Whirl at the Kitsap County Fair was inspected in March and had the appropriate permits to operate in Washington, according to LNI spokesman Matthew Erlich.
Washington state has averaged about four injuries a year on “amusement rides” — which include mobile and fixed amusement parks, inflatable rides and activities like bungee jumping and zip lines — since 2013, according to LNI.
So far in 2018, there have been five reported injuries attributed to amusement rides.
“It's important to understand that the public and L&I and amusement ride operators and insurance companies all have a pretty high stake in making sure amusement rides are safe,” Erlich said.
Dunwiddie said the county is considering different requirements or performance standards for carnival operators in light of the incident. County risk managers inspect the carnival area for things like fire hazards and exposed cables, but they don’t examine the machines themselves.
“This is a serious matter and this isn’t anything we’re going to ignore,” Dundwiddie said. “There are some things that were brought to light that we have to have serious discussions on.”