Thursday, August 26, 1999

Kings Island taking no chances

Statistically, rides are safe,

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Riders were stuck about 75 feet in the air — some nearly upside-down — for up to 3 1/2 hours when a roller coaster stopped mid-track Wednesday at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo, Calif.
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        MASON — Many thrill-seekers at Paramount's Kings Island on Wednesday were unfazed by two fatal accidents on consecutive days at other parks that led to shutdowns of two popular attractions — Drop Zone and King Cobra.

        “I would still ride them both if they were open,” said Joanne Hall of Symsonia, Ky. “I mean, the accidents happened someplace else, not here. I don't think they should've shut them down.”

        But the fatal accidents have raised questions about the overall safety of amusement park rides. Kings Island officials elected to close the rides as a precaution until more information becomes available about what caused the fatal accidents.

        “There is enough similarity between the rides at Kings Island and the rides at the other parks for us to take these steps,” said David Mandt, park spokesman. “Kings Island has an outstanding safety record over the years, one which we are working hard to maintain.”

king cobra
The King Cobra is closed as a precaution.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        He noted that the rides in the other parks had the same manufacturers as the two closed at Kings Island.

        “It's disappointing that the rides are closed, but if there is any question as to the safety of the ride, then maybe they were right to close it down,” said Nick Verbus of Hinkley. “I mean, it is kind of odd that people get killed two days in a row.”

        Odd isn't the word for it, according to Mr. Mandt.

        “It's bizarre,” he said. “Statistics show that you are more likely to get injured using a garden hose at your home than being injured on a thrill-ride.”

        Park officials closed Drop Zone, one of the park's two newest attractions, indefinitely on Monday after a child was killed Sunday when he fell from a similar ride of the same name at Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara, Calif.

        On Tuesday, Kings Island officials announced the park's 15-year-old, stand-up looping roller coaster, The King Cobra, would also be shut down after a 20-year-old New York man was killed Monday when he slipped through his harness and fell from an identical ride at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Richmond, Va.

        Susan Lomax of Paramount Parks said late Wednesday that the King Cobra ride would reopen today because the company's investigation found that the Kings Dominion accident was the result of rider misconduct.

        The last ride-related death reported at Kings Island occurred in 1991, when a Toledo-area woman fell from the Flight Commander, a spinning aerial ride.

        State investigators faulted the manufacturer, not Kings Island, for improperly designed restraints that allowed solo riders in the two-person capsules to slide under shoulder and lap harnesses. They also said the woman was inebriated.

        Kings Island removed the ride from the park. In 1985, the park dismantled a roller coaster called The Bat because of persistent mechanical problems, although no injuries were reported.

        However, in The King Cobra's first year, in 1984, eight people suffered minor injuries when a car derailed.

        Mr. Mandt said government statistics show that amusement park and attraction rides constitute one of the safest forms of recreation available.

        The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 1998 out of 300 million visits to amusement parks across the country, 4,500 injuries were reported involving rides. Of those 4,500 injuries, 36 resulted in hospitalization, the commission said.

        Fatalities related to amusement park rides have averaged just two per year over the past two decades, according to the CPSC.

        “Assuming each guest takes only three rides, the odds of being injured seriously enough to require hospitalization are about 1 in 25 million and the odds of being fatally injured are 1 in 450 million,” said Joel Cliff, public relations coordinator for the International Association of Amusement Park Attractions.

        “Safety is a priority for us because we base our reputation on it,” Mr. Mandt said. “Our rides go through rigorous testing, including mechanical, electrical and operational checks every day before the park opens, or before one guest sets foot on any attraction.”

        Nevertheless, amusement parks don't like to talk about accidents, said George Rogers, a Toledo attorney who represented the family of a woman killed at Kings Island in 1991.

        “These companies are very concerned about anything that could break the confidence of people coming to their parks,” he said.

        Overall, amusement rides in Ohio have a good safety record, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which is required to inspect each ride at least twice a year.

        Rides are checked before the season opens in May and again a few weeks before the season ends in September, said Deb Abbott, a department spokeswoman. Nine inspectors, who are required to take 80 hours of continuing education each year, checked 1,888 rides last year.

        Thirty-three people have suffered ride-related injuries in Ohio since 1995. State law requires reports only on injuries requiring hospitalization.

        Ohio's three largest amusement parks - Kings Island, Cedar Point in Sandusky and Geauga Lake in Aurora - had about 8 million visitors last year, including 3.4 million at Kings Island.

        Indiana and Kentucky officials inspect amusement rides once a year, followed by spot checks during the summer. There are 18 ride inspectors in each of the states.

        Nineteen people have been hospitalized in Kentucky in the past year and a half following ride-related accidents, said Carl Dills, spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Regulation and Inspection.

        There haven't been any serious accidents reported in Indiana since a woman was killed and her granddaughter was paralyzed after a miniature train derailed and overturned in 1996. The accident occurred at the now-defunct Old Indiana Fun-n-Water Park in Thorntown.

        The ride had been approved by state inspectors, but another review after the accident found the train's brakes were broken and anti-derailment devices were missing. Three inspectors later resigned.

        A year after that fatal accident, Indiana lawmakers approved tougher regulations for amusement operators and began requiring inspectors to be certified by a national peer group.

        Tristate officials say the Indiana incident was an unusual lapse in ride safety. About 80 percent of amusement ride accidents in the United States are caused by patron error or other human error, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

        But Mark Sanford of Detroit said getting injured is the last thing on his mind when he enters an amusement park.

        “I think all of the rides here are relatively safe, including the two they've shut down,” said Mr Sanford, who was visiting Kings Island Wednesday. “These places usually do a pretty good job of making sure all the rides are as safe as possible. It's not something I worry about when I come here.”

        Enquirer reporter Michael Hawthorne contributed to this article.


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