How Michigan works to prevent fair ride disasters

Elliot's Amusements co-owner: Ohio tragedy 'our industry's worst nightmare'

Ottawa County Fair
A July 27, 2017 photo shows rides at the Ottawa County Fair in Park Township.

PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Wednesday’s deadly carnival ride disaster at the Ohio State Fair underlines the potential dangers of traveling summer amusement parks.

“I’m just hoping that they really double-check things more,” said Jackie Boss of Holland, who came to the Ottawa County Fair Thursday with her grandnephews.

There are as many as 100 million rides operating in Michigan every year, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Considering the quantity of rides, the state has a remarkable record of safety, with only 10 injuries reported last year.

“The state of Michigan has a very rigorous safety system,” said Debbie Elliot, co-owner of Michigan-based Elliot’s Amusements. “We’re real lucky here.”

Michigan’s regulatory agency must inspect every ride in the state each year, but that’s not where it ends, according to Elliot.

“We have an independent, private inspector that comes out once a year and spends two or three days with us,” Elliot said. “He goes through every aspect of the ride, top to bottom.”

Elliot said on-site, company-employed inspectors document checks of every ride, every day.

LARA officials say 80 percent of all injuries on rides are because of the riders’ actions.

“In the state of Michigan, we have the ‘Rider Responsibility Law’ which on all of our rides is posted,” Elliot said. “They have to follow the rules.”

There is no evidence of any ride-related injuries at the Ottawa County Fair. However in 2014, an 8-year-old child and 6-year-old child fell from a Ferris wheel at a fair in Chelsea, Michigan. Authorities determined the girl’s crutch got stuck, causing the bucket to tip.

In July of 2006, 8-year-old Blake Miller of Greenville died while riding the Fire Ball at the Ionia Free Fair. However, it was determined he likely suffered some type of heart problem while on the ride.

Authorities stand near the Fire Ball amusement ride after the ride malfunctioned injuring several at the Ohio State Fair, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the victims were thrown from the ride when it malfunctioned Wednesday night, said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin. (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

Inspectors are still trying to determine what caused the Fire Ball at the Ohio State Fair to break apart Wednesday, killing an 18-year-old man who had just enlisted in the Marines and injuring seven others. Industry leaders and the state will be watching closely to see what Michigan can learn from the tragedy.

“It’s our industry’s worst nightmare,” Elliot said.

Fairs in California, New Jersey and Canada shut down similar rides after the accident.

Ride manufacturer KMG said 43 of the rides, also known as the Afterburner, are in use in the U.S. and elsewhere. LARA officials confirmed that the ride is not operating in Michigan.

“I’m hoping they got an eye-opening on what’s really going on,” Boss said. “We’ve never heard of bad issues here. What happened in Ohio was a bad experience, but I just pray it will never happen again.”