Ohio State Fair reopens after 18-year-old’s death, rides remain closed
MattGush/iStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Eighteen-year-old Tyler Jarrell of Columbus, Ohio, was killed Wednesday evening when the Fire Ball ride he was on at the Ohio State Fair broke apart in mid-air, the Ohio State Highway Patrol said.
Seven people were also injured in the incident. Authorities have identified them as Tamika Dunlap, 36; Russell Franks, 42; Keziah Lewis, 19; Jacob Andrews, 22; Jennifer Lambert, 18; and Abdihakim Hussein, 19. A 14-year-old boy was wounded, but his name has not been publicly released.
The victims were transported to local hospitals, and at least three are in critical condition.
“Our hearts are heavy for the families of those involved in last night’s tragic accident. We have shut down all rides until the state has inspected each and every ride again and deemed them to be safe,” fair officials tweeted on Thursday.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called the incident a “nightmare,” but he still encouraged Ohioans to visit the fair.
“There’s so much to do, and we’ll pull together and come through this. And we’ll have an even stronger fair as a result,” he said.
The governor said he would not speculate on the cause of the incident.
An official with the Ohio State Highway Patrol said its investigators have been at the scene since the deadly incident was reported at 7:24 p.m. Wednesday.
Julian Bellinger was waiting in line for the ride and witnessed the accident. He shared his video recording with ABC News.
“The people that were working it had pressed the emergency brake. And in the video, you see it go up, and when it came back down, a piece had fell,” Bellinger told Good Morning America on Thursday.
Bellinger said he then saw people fall out, d he turned his head. “I couldn’t watch it,” he said.
“People were running away, crying,” he continued. “You just don’t expect to see stuff like that, especially at the fair.”
Britney Neal, 16, was next in line with her sister when the incident occurred.
She saw three people fall, and it looked like they were making a “face before death,” she said.
“They knew they were hitting the ground,” she told ABC News. “They knew they were going to die. Every time I close my eyes, I can see the image.”
Neal said she felt “truly traumatized. I grabbed my sister right away. I said, ‘That could’ve been us.’ “
Her sister, Kiley Neal, 13, told ABC News, “I didn’t think it was real. To see that — their shoes falling off, one of their legs twisted and them hitting the ground, and all the noises, just gives us nightmares.”
According to amusement ride operator Amusements of America (AOA), the Fire Ball “combines swinging and spinning action” and has become “one of the most popular thrill rides on the AOA Midway.”
David Daniels of the Ohio Department of Agriculture said the department inspects rides every day, adding that 11 rides at the fair did not open on Wednesday because they were not inspected. He said four rides were not operating because they did not meet the requirements of a mechanical test.
Kasich said Wednesday that the Fire Ball had been inspected multiple times by a third-party inspector.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s chief inspector of amusement ride safety, Mike Vartorella, said inspectors have been present at the fair since last Wednesday. An inspection of the Fire Ball would include evaluating connections and hydraulics. Vartorella said the Fire Ball had been inspected three to four times over the previous two days.
Wednesday marked the first day of the fair, which is scheduled to run through Aug. 6, according to the fair’s website.
Fair officials said gates were expected to open at 9 a.m. Thursday, and other activities would resume as scheduled.
Other similar rides throughout the country are being shut down as a precaution.
The Monmouth County Fair in New Jersey immediately shut down a ride similar to the Ohio State Fair’s Fire Ball after the deadly incident in Ohio, ABC station WABC-TV in New York reported. A similar ride at the Orange County Fair in California was also shut down to undergo a re-inspection after the Ohio incident, according to ABC station KABC-TV in Los Angeles said.
North American Midway Entertainment, which is not a provider of the Ohio State Fair rides, said in a statement that, due to the accident, “we will keep all our Fire Ball rides closed until further notice from the manufacturer for precautionary safety measures.”
The Indiana State Fairgrounds & Event Center said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone impacted by the tragic accident at the Ohio State Fair.”
The Indiana State Fair and North American Midway Entertainment have made the decision to not operate the Fire Ball at the 2017 Indiana State Fair, the statement read.
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