Preventing another tragedy: How efforts to beef up ride inspections were ignored
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) —
The Fire Ball tragedy that killed one and injured seven at the Ohio State Fair started a debate about the state’s amusement ride safety laws.
A former state representative says he pushed for change more than a decade ago after the death of an 8-year old-boy at the Lake County Fair.
To this day, the memories are raw for the family of Greyson Yoe. The Fire Ball tragedy on July 26th only compounded their heartache.
Paul Yoe sat down with ABC 6 On Your Side to talk about what life has been like without his brother, Greyson.
“There's never a moment that we don't think about him,” said Paul Yoe.
Paul was a teenager when his brother was born and a young man when Greyson died at the age of 8.
“He'd just be getting just be getting his life going,” said Yoe.
Paul says Greyson loved all things mechanical and the family-owned nursery was his playground.
“Anything that had a motor or tires on it, he was all about it,” said Yoe.
On August 13, 2003, a demolition derby drew Greyson and his dad to the Lake County Fair. Paul says Greyson was attracted to the Scooter Ride.
“He had already been on it once and was back in line to go again,” said Yoe.
But, Greyson didn’t make it back on for that second time.
“Instead of a shock, he got an actual charge. It was pretty instant,” said Yoe.
Paul says no one realized at first Greyson was badly hurt.
“He just fell and slumped over there was no noise or anything,” said Yoe.
Greyson never regained consciousness and was in the hospital two weeks before he died.
Ohio Court of Claims records show several thousand volts coursed through Greyson when he made contact with the metal railing of the ride.
“The fuses were gone and replaced with tin foil rolled up about this big and shoved into the breaker area. Those people didn’t know that was not right,” said Yoe.
The court found Ohio Department of Agriculture inspectors failed to discover the ride wasn’t properly grounded and were deemed negligent.
“It’s just a sad accident that could have been prevented if certain things had been changed or maybe some more time involved in certain steps of the fair process,” said Yoe.
A rush of memories will return for Paul every time something goes wrong with any amusement ride. July 26th was no different. It was opening day of the Ohio State Fair. Tyler Jarrell died after being tossed from the Fire Ball ride when it broke apart. Seven others were hurt.
“I actually think about that family all the time and the other families of the injured people. It was fortunate that more didn’t lose their lives. It’s sad that the one did,” said Yoe.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture oversees amusement ride safety. There are 8 inspectors currently on staff. In 2016, the state licensed and inspected 3,765 rides. Agriculture department spokesman, Mark Bruce, says none of the inspectors are certified engineers or electricians, but they do have to maintain a certain level of training.
“Eight is not enough,” said Yoe.
Bruce maintains the number of inspectors is always reviewed as rides are licensed, but right now, they’re in a good spot with work loads and staff.
“Maybe it’s time to have that discussion about how we inspect these rides and what should be required,” said former state representative Tim Cassell.
Cassell says he wanted tougher inspections a decade ago after the death of Greyson Yoe.
“I think you have to have more inspections. So if you do that, you’ll have to have more inspectors. But the way it is now eight works. Or does it? It works for what’s required,” said Cassell.
Cassell says he created legislation to both honor Greyson’s memory and protect other children at fairs. In February 2005, Cassell proposed House Bill 64, nicknamed “Greyson’s Law”, to make a more robust inspection process for electrical hookups.
“Every fair, every festival, those components would be inspected to make sure it was double-grounded and was hooked up properly through a breaker or service panel,” said Cassell.
Cassell says that wasn’t close to what he got. Cassell says instead, the Department of Agriculture got a line item in the 2006 state budget.
“We ended up with about $100,000 in training, but nothing specific to electrical components,” said Cassell.
Bruce says right now, there isn’t a requirement to inspect a ride every time it’s set up. The law states the only inspection of a ride that is required is when it gets a permit once a year. For Paul, it’s a matter of keeping other families from experiencing similar heartache.
“I think it needs to be a little bit more fine-tuned than what it’s been. They’ve gotten lucky with what hasn’t happened yet,” said Yoe.
Greyson’s mother, Audra , says Greyson was a charming, humorous boy, who never met a stranger and adored his family.
“It’s a void that they won’t ever be able to fill,” said Yoe.
Paul says he never returned to the Lake County Fair, but is cautious with his own children.
“We still go to the fairs, but I don’t let my kids ride any of the rides and it’s not because I don’t’ want them to. It’s just I don’t want to take the chance,” said Yoe.
His brother would be 22 now.
“I think all the time what it would have been like to watch him go play high school sports and college,” said Yoe.
Reminders of a promising life hang on the walls at the family nursery.
“I have one of his work boots on my counter at the office that’s a pen holder,” said Yoe.
Greyson rests at a cemetery close by.
“We often visit his site. Keep it nice and tidy and squared away,” said Yoe.
A Hungarian phrase is etched on the headstone. It means good little boy.
“He was pretty special,” said Yoe.
A good little boy’s short life, and grief that lasts a lifetime.
The Department of Agriculture spokesman respectfully declined an on camera interview for this story.