GREENEVILLE (WATE) – After three girls fell from a Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair, there are several questions about how safe each ride is and who is in control of making sure the rides are up to code.
Francies Guenthner with FX Inspections was out examining rides Tuesday to make sure all of the rides were up to code. While Guenthner couldn’t speak on what went wrong with the Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair, because it’s under investigation, he did say he has only seen small issues with other rides, like a couple of missing safety pins and a fiberglass crack, which he said could be easily repaired with duct tape.
Guenther said he has worked with Family Attractions Amusement for years and has never found issues. “In this industry, there’s been 2.5 deaths per year for the last 10 years and a lot of those have happened in parks. Carnivals tend to get bad names,” said Gunther. “Today it’s run as a business, you don’t survive unless it’s run as a good business, you have safe rides, you have good looking rides.”
In Tennessee, rides must be inspected annually by a third-party inspector. Family Attractions Amusements, which runs the rides at the Greene County Fair, was up to date on inspections. The company had an inspection last June in Indiana. The rides, including the Ferris wheel in the Greene County Fair accident, passed inspection. Greeneville Police Captain Tim Davis said there will not be criminal charges unless inspectors find the cause of the three girls falling was negligence.
Jennifer Farrar, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce, says Family Attractions Amusement’s permit is set to expire on August 13th. The state does recognize permits issued by other states within a three month period. However, they will not recognize the Indiana inspection because of this accident.
According to Fentress County Fair’s website and a person who answered the phone at the fairgrounds, they also use Family Attractions Amusements. Jefferson County’s fair, which starts Thursday, uses a different company, James Gang Amusements, according to Jefferson County Fair President Ricky Taylor. Tennessee Valley Fair uses Wade Shows.
In October 2013, a company by the name of Amusements of Rochester, Inc, a subsidiary of Family Attractions Amusement, was cited for safety violations in North Carolina after five people fell out of their seats and were injured on a ride at a fair in Raleigh.
Five people were injured in Wake County in October 2013 when The Vortex started up unexpectedly as people were trying to get off. Investigators determined that an electrical box was rewired, allowing the ride to operate while safety restraints weren’t locked in place.
Read more: Incident report
Of the five who were hurt, Anthony Gorham suffered brain, skull, neck and spinal cord injuries and spent nearly four months in a local hospital. His wife, Kisha Gorham, and her son and her niece were also seriously injured.
The Gorhams settled a lawsuit over the accident with Macaroni,Timothy Dwayne Tutterrow, an employee operating the Vortex Ride, and Family Attractions Amusements LLC. The initial lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs claims Macaroni and Tutterrow, an employee operating the Vortex Ride, re-wired the circuitry controls on the Vortex in order to increase the amount of time it takes to get passengers on and off the ride and to make more money. The riders claim they were about to get off the ride when it lurched back into operations throwing them 20 to 30 feet above the metal platform.
Macaroni served 30 days in jail and five years probation after he entered an Alford plea, which allows him to plead guilty while maintaining his innocence. Tutterrow was given 22 days in jail and 18 months of unsupervised probation after he plead guilty to assault with a deadly weapon.
There was another violation by Family Attractions Amusement in 2015. An inspector in Illinois found pins missing on one of the ferris wheels tubs that carriers passengers.
After the incident, the Greene County Fair Board asked Family Attractions Amusement to get a third-party inspection, even though the company already had their permit to operate this year. Greene County Fair Board President Bobby Holt said the Fair Board said they would continue to allow Family Attractions Amusements to run the rides at their fair at least through the end of their contract in 2017.
WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to both of the owners of Family Attractions Amusement Company, but have not received a response.
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Inspection Requirements for Fair Rides
Five years ago, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce were put in charge of overseeing amusement ride inspections. However, they rely on third party inspectors to look at every ride each year before they are open at the fair.
They also must provide some information to the state before the rides are available for the public’s use. Ride companies much provide a travel itinerary, which includes where the company plans to operate its ride throughout the year. In addition, the companies must have an inspection report for every ride they own. Inspections must be done by a third party group agency approved by the state. The inspector can not be the designer or installer of the ride.
This process changed in 2014 after Tennessee’s audit report. The state found problem’s in the Department of Labor and Workforce’s staffing and operations, in regards to amusement ride inspections. As of July 2014, the department had no ride inspectors. That same year, 92 companies needed amusement ride permits, but the department only issued 54.
As a result, the Department of Labor and Workforce got out of the inspection business altogether. It now requires companies to hire private inspectors and it is no longer required to hire its own.
Rides are only inspected once a year or after an accident or fatality. They do not have to be inspected every time it is set up.