Fair officials work to reassure visitors about safety

COLUMBUS (AP) — State officials and amusement industry executives worked to reassure visitors Monday that the 2018 Ohio State Fair will be safe a year after a catastrophic ride failure left an 18-year-old dead and seven others injured.

The effort came ahead of Wednesday’s opening day, when thousands of adults and children will begin returning to the fairgrounds where Tyler Jarrell was killed when the Fire Ball ride broke apart.

“We continue to have the utmost confidence in the skills and capabilities of our inspectors to carry out the statutory duties that they’re required to,” said Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels. He said the 2017 accident was a tragic mechanical error but that Ohio’s inspection program remains one of the best in the nation.

The state never concluded why the Fire Ball’s support beams became so corroded on the inside resulting in its ultimate failure. The ride’s manufacturer, Netherlands-based KMG, issued its findings nine days after the malfunction: “Excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years. This finally led to a catastrophic failure of the ride during operation.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported the company had been put on notice in 2012 about the potential rusting issue. The company, which did not return calls for comment, had set a new required thickness of 3.8mm, down from 6mm, on steel support beams required to operate the ride, according to a letter from KGM to ride operators North American Midway Entertainment in Brantford, Ontario, that was obtained by the newspaper.

Video of the July 26, 2017, Fire Ball accident showed gondolas holding multiple riders shearing apart during operation, ejecting riders in mid-swing and plunging them to the ground. Jarrell died of blunt force trauma injuries after being tossed 50 feet into the air when the ride broke apart.

“Tyler’s Law,” named for Jarrell, is supported by survivors of the ride collapse. It would require the Agriculture Department to hire a “reasonable and adequate” number of inspectors, preferably mechanical engineers; require ride owners to maintain inspection records; and require Ohio to employ nationally recognized inspection standards.

Jarrell’s mother, Amber Duffield, said she’s crushed that legislators have not acted after a year.

“I’m not sure I have words for that — other than the trust is broken,” she told The Dispatch. She advised, “Simply see that there is something wrong and take action and make it right. I mean, that doesn’t take a lot, or a genius to say, ‘Do we really want that to happen again? Do we really need this to happen again?'”

Ohio also still employs eight full-time inspectors, the same number as last year, for 3,700 rides statewide.