Greene County Fair opens rides after extra inspections

Three girls fell from the Ferris wheel at the Greene County Fair in August 2016.

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A year after a tragic accident, the Greene County Fair opened new rides Tuesday.

Three children fell more than 35 feet from a Ferris wheel in 2016. The fall caused one child to have a traumatic brain injury.

Inspectors said the accident was caused by a mechanical failure, specifically worn rivets that allowed the gondola in which the girls were riding to get caught on another gondola and tip over.

This year, the fair performed extra inspections on rides to prevent another accident.

Related: Greene County Fair begins; inspectors checking rides as they arrive

Before rides opened late Tuesday afternoon, many say they were minded of how much they trust the mechanics.

“You hope that they catch everything. You hope they’re catching every crack or rust spot, so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out this year,” said Cleva Claiborne.

By law, the state requires amusement rides to be inspected just once a year.

“Our inspector will actually be here tonight as the rides are running and has agreed to be here tomorrow night too,” said Rick Clark, President of Greene County Fair.

Changes are more of a precaution and a way to ensure the rides are safe while being installed and running. Clark says they’ve been revising how and who they’ll work with, since last year’s accident.

“The reason we chose Bell City was their longevity in the business. They’ve been around 68 years which is the same age that we are. They’ve been here a long time and have a great overall safety record and I think they’ll do a great job,” he added.

At the state level, the Amusement Device Unit has added three safety compliance operators.

“They are presently identifying those businesses, those amusement operators across the state who are not licensed,” said Commissioner Burns Phillips with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Commissioner Phillips says all the work that’s being done at a state level and in Greene County is a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.

“Everybody has done everything they can, and more, to make sure these rides are safe and operable,” added Commissioner Phillips.

Lawmakers say the state’s comptroller found shortcomings in 2014 in the number of staff overseeing issues in the Amusement Device Unit.

“We’re certainly trying to move forward and to ensure that we get as many eyes on every fair, every carnival, every ride that’s set up across Tennessee. We’re not where we need to be yet but we’re certainly moving in that direction,” said State Rep. David Hawk.

It’s too soon to know and list every change that needs to be made. Lawmakers say they’ll be speaking with inspectors, operators, and companies on what they feel needs to be done.

“We’re going to learn from what happens this week. We’re going to see how these additional sets of eyes help the process,” added Rep. Hawk.

Some say Greene County is setting the trend going above and beyond state inspection requirements. That’s why there’s the hope others take notice as rides are taken apart and moved to the next county fair.

“The reality is that most owner operators it’s in their best interest to make sure the rides function as they should. It’s in the fair board’s best interest, it’s in the state’s best interest to make sure that they are functional and safe and operable,” said Commissioner Phillips.

Ultimately, the number of checks and inspections falls on the shoulders of those planning the fair.

“Well you do hope with that experience that everybody’s learned a lesson, not just here in Greene County, every place these rides go up,” said Claiborne.

Many visiting the fair on Tuesday say they’re relieved knowing there will be an extra set of eyes.

“Well you expect your children to be safe when they get on the rides that they’ve been inspected, that they’re safe and fun,” added Claiborne.

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