Two years ago, undetected corrosion on the Fire Ball thrill ride led to an accident that killed 18-year-old Columbus native Tyler Jarrell and injured seven others.
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The Ohio Department of Agriculture employs eight full-time ride inspectors to oversee more than 4,000 rides across the state, which is the same amount of inspectors the state had in 2017. In 2006, the state licensed 2,780 rides, 51 go-kart tracks, 309 portable ride companies and 122 permanent facilities.
Ohio is home to two of the largest amusement parks in the country: Cedar Point and Kings Island. State inspectors cover those parks, as well as go-kart tracks, water parks, county fairs and inflatables such as giant slides and bouncy houses.
In 2017, the Fire Ball ride passed state inspections earlier in the day and was cleared to open to the public. Likewise, records show Amusements of America, the ride and attractions vendor at the fair, performed a daily inspection and maintenance check.
Later that evening, the gondola laden with passengers detached from the supporting sweep arm, according to an official at KMG, the ride manufacturer. Bystander video captured a disturbing, scary scene: the gondola swept down and then upward as seats broke away and passengers were flung off into the air.
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State Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda said she has travelled with ODA’s inspectors and has no doubt that they are able to inspect all the rides within the state.
“I have a lot of confidence in our inspectors,” Pelanda said. “They have done a superb job.”
Pelanda added that the new state budget raises the funding for the ODA’s Division of Amusement Ride Safety & Fairs at her request, which would allow the department to increase the staff and lighten the workload for individual ride inspectors.
“My focus is on moving forward,” Pelanda said, “and to be very proactive about ride safety.”
In 2018, the State Fair opted to renew its long-time contract with Amusements of America but this year is switching to a new vendor, Talley Amusements.
Despite the switch in vendors, the fair’s contract remains the same. The state will share revenue with Talley amusements dependent on how much revenue the midway makes. Last year, the fair had a revenue of $1,664,356 with $948,683 of that revenue being owed to the vendor.
Attendance at the 2018 Ohio State Fair partially rebounded to 908,306 after 2017’s opening day tragedy dipped the fair’s attendance to 801,031.