Operators Not At Fault In Deadly Roller Coaster Accident

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COLUMBUS — Investigators believe two people tossed from a thrill ride when it broke apart in a deadly accident at the Ohio State Fair this summer were latched in even though some witnesses said it appeared one of the safety harnesses wasn’t securely locked.

The State Highway Patrol’s investigation, released Thursday, found the ride operators were not to blame when one of the ride’s carriages broke off and ejected the two passengers. Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien said his review of the findings led him to decide there isn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

An 18 year-old high school student, Tyler Jarrell, died on the midway while his girlfriend, 19-year-old Keziah Lewis, was critically injured on the opening day of the fair on July 26. Six other people also were injured.

A four-passenger carriage on the swinging and spinning Fire Ball ride broke apart while 20 other horrified riders watched from their seats. Video taken by a bystander of the ride in action captured a crashing sound. Jarrell and Lewis plunged to the ground while two other riders in the carriage were strapped in their seats.

The ride’s Dutch manufacturer, KMG, said excessive corrosion within a support beam wore away the steel wall’s thickness over the years, causing the catastrophic failure. The accident resulted in the shutdown of similar rides worldwide.

Investigators in the report released Thursday didn’t draw any conclusions about why or when the ride began rusting away or how it went unnoticed.

A state ride inspector said he saw “blistering paint and rust, but nothing out of the normal” during an inspection, but other ride inspectors and a third-party contractor who looked over the ride said they saw no evidence of cracks or any other problems.

A photo taken shortly before the accident showed what appeared to be a crack across the area where the carriage came apart, the report said. Ride inspectors and operators who later looked at the photo said they hadn’t seen the crack earlier in the day.

Attorney Rex Elliott, who represents Lewis, said the corrosion inside the support beam holding the carriage wore away from the inside out while it was in transport and storage.

“I don’t know how in the world you couldn’t have seen the corrosion when this thing is pulled off and taken apart,” he said. “There were other earmarks of corrosion that makes it more questionable how they didn’t see it.”

Lewis, a University of Cincinnati student, has undergone nine surgeries and remains in intensive care at a Columbus hospital, Elliott said.

The carnival worker operating Fire Ball on the day of the accident said he had trouble fastening the harness on Lewis because of her size so he had her and Jarrell move to different seats on another carriage — the one that broke free minutes later.

People who were on the carnival ride said the operator still had a tough time with her harness but the ride eventually started.

Those witnesses gave conflicting statements on whether they thought Lewis had been secured in her seat. One said he heard a worker say “whatever, its fine,” according to the report.

Investigators believe Lewis and Jarrell were properly secured because firefighters later found their harnesses were still locked down after the accident.

“However, we can’t say with 100 percent certainty that they were latched because of conflicting statements and the video didn’t show the point where the gondola detached,” said Lt. Robert Sellers, a patrol spokesman.

Officials with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission inspected the ride afterward, but they were unable to find a cause of the accident. They did say “there was a good amount of rust and corrosion inside of the arm carrying the orange gondola that detached,” according to the report.

Some witnesses thought the carriage scraped the platform at the bottom of the ride, but investigators determined the carriage only hit a red bar on the side of the platform.

A woman who said she was asked to switch seats with Lewis said she and her three friends moved to another carriage. She said the ride seemed “shaky” at first but then the ride was normal until the accident.