DALLAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – You’ve likely been there—staring up a thrilling amusement park ride with your child begging to get on it. You’re asking yourself, “Who’s keeping that ride safe?”
“There’s nobody out there looking out for the consumers,” says Safety Analyst Ken Martin.
Martin has spent decades as a ride safety analyst, inspector and consultant.
Last year alone, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 36,900 people who were rushed to the emergency room from injuries on amusement park attractions.
In Texas, the CBS11 I-Team has learned there is very little oversight on thrill rides, and the very agency in charge of the amusement parks, bounce houses and carnival rides has been saying for years that it cannot “effectively” do the job.
The accident at the Ohio State Fair may be one in millions, but still, mechanics fail. The accident killed an 18-year-old man when part of the “Fireball” ride detached. The horrifying crash was caught on tape.
when part of the “Fireball” ride detached. The horrifying crash was caught on tape.
In 2013, 52-year-old Rosy Esparza died falling of the Texas Giant at Six Flags in Arlington.
In 2015 court papers show Nora Gonzales violently hit the ground when “The Scrambler” broke at Traders Village in Grand Prairie.
In 2016 tragedy struck the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas when 10-year-old Caleb Schwab died on the VerrÃ¼ckt water slide. He had been begging his parents to let him go on it.
Earlier this year, a 15-month-old died after being electrocuted by a fence near a bounce house at a carnival in Wichita, Kansas.
And, recently rides have been stuck in California, Maryland and Texas.
TRACKING THE RIDES
Martin says someone should have caught the corrosion on the Fireball. “We don’t track things we should have been tracking that would have allowed us to prevent that particular accident.”
The CBS11 I-Team has learned there is no database tracking ride safety and no federal requirement for inspections. A different department in each state decides how to regulate and inspect.
In many states, the Department of Labor watches over amusement park rides. In some states, it’s the Department of Agriculture or the Fire Marshal. In Texas, it’s the department of insurance.
Martin says there is no system tracking carnival rides from state to state, and he says there is no sharing information from one state to another.
AGENCY REGULATING RIDES IN TEXAS
In Texas, if operators can provide paperwork to the Texas Department of Insurance proving a ride, slide or a bounce house has been inspected in the last year and has a one-million dollar insurance policy, it can operate. Martin doesn’t believe that is enough, “The question and the biggest issue is- exactly what type of qualification is that?…”It’s basically a paperwork process where you submit your insurance policy to the state.”
The Department of Insurance agrees that process is not good enough.
Since 2012, the CBS11 I-Team has learned that the state agency has repeatedly said in reports to the legislature that it has “no efficient means of monitoring rides.” And, it has “no effective means for recourse when instances” occur. It says it has no way to track problems except through “competitors” and “online searches.”
Jerry Hagins, a spokesperson for the Texas Departments of Insurance acknowledges that it has “no authority to site or sanction anyone for having an injury.”
In September 2016 the TDI asked lawmakers once again to transfer the responsibility to another regulatory agency stating the number of rides in Texas is “steadily increasing.”
In a September 2017 report, issued just last month, the TDI wrote: “TDI does not have authority to fine noncompliant owners or operators; however, the county district attorney or the attorney general may seek an injunction against an owner or operator. Additionally, law enforcement has authority to enter and inspect an operation and to prohibit the operation of any noncompliant amusement rides.”
THE STATE FAIR OF TEXAS
At the State Fair, it is Rusty Fitzgerald’s job to keep visitors safe. He’s the Vice President of Operations and says safety of the visitors is his number one priority.
“I don’t think the state of Texas is capable of having enough inspectors who go out who actually know the job to get them done,” he told the I-Team on a tour around the State Fair of Texas.
He says the responsibility lies on the facility to make sure the inspection is done right. At the fair, Rusty says the buck stops with him. He says he goes above and beyond the state and federal guidelines to ensure safety. “I want to be able to sleep at night,” he says.
Fitzgerald says he handpicks rides that come to the Fair and sends his own inspectors to other states to view equipment before it arrives in Texas. He says he has a more stringent process of inspections than most carnivals nationwide.
But still, some insiders say those inspections need to be more regulated by state or federal authorities who are comparing notes. “The amusement parks and carnivals have their inspection process. They do have it. You have to remember it is their inspection process,” Martin said.
“It’s nothing more than a case of the fox guarding the hen house.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
In Texas, consumers can look for this sticker at all rides, bounce houses and carnivals.
The sticker indicates the ride is compliant with the regulations in Texas. Again, this means it has been inspected by an inspector chosen by the amusement park or carnival’s insurance company. The sticker also means the ride carries a one-million dollar insurance policy.
In a statement to the I-Team, TDI tells the I-Team, “State law directs our agency to monitor compliance with the requirements, and enforcement authority resides with the Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement. In recent years, we’ve improved the way we identify new businesses and help bring them into compliance. In 2017, we issued more compliance stickers than ever before. This process is described in a report we just issued two weeks ago. There’s a chart on Page 6 that shows the increase in compliance stickers issued.”
These are all self-reported by the owners of the amusement park attractions. In the last three years, they have reported 300 injuries in Texas.
The I-Team has learned TDI found 735 attractions non-compliant from 2014-2016.
The following is a list of non-compliant rides since 2012.
If you’d like to get in touch with the CBS11 I-Team about this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.