Fire Ball fair ride passed inspection hours before deadly accident
The Fire Ball ride that malfunctioned, killing one and injuring seven at the Ohio State Fair, was inspected about three to four times before it was given the all-clear to operate, the state’s chief ride inspector said.
Michael Vartorella, amusement ride safety chief inspector with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the Fire Ball is considered a “spectacular piece” because it arrives and is put up using several trucks.
Inspectors said Amusements of America out of Florence, South Carolina, supplies and runs the rides at the Ohio State Fair.
State inspection reports obtained by ABC 6 Investigates give the Fire Ball ride satisfactory marks for maintenance and inspection prior to opening Wednesday.
Four state inspectors looked at the ride and records show the ride was given its annual permit. This was the first time the ride was operated in Ohio this year.
A previous inspection record was obtained by ABC 6 but no location or date was given and inspectors said they plan to find out why Thursday.
Inspections show last October, Soil Consultants, Inc. found no defects on ride's structural components and no defective gondola pins.
Amusements of America advertises the Fire Ball as one of the most popular rides on the midway. It made its debut in 2002 at several fairs and “combines swinging and spinning action,” according to its website. Riders are held in by harnesses and spun 40 feet off the ground, rotating 13 times in a minute.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture is responsible for inspecting all of the rides at fairs and amusements parks across the state.
Inspectors said there are more than 70 rides at the Ohio State Fair and 11 did not pass inspection when the gates first opened Wednesday. Four others will not open after failing to meet mechanical tests.
Vartorella said all of the rides will be re-inspected and a thorough investigation has been launched.
“We take this job very serious and when we have a tragedy like this, it hits everybody,” Vartorella said. “My children and grandchildren ride this equipment so our guys do not rush through this stuff.”
He added, “We look at it, we take care of it and we pretend it’s our own.”
All rides are inspected for electrical, hydraulic, structural and safety deficiencies. Inspectors visit more than 100 fairs in Ohio. In total, 4,300 pieces across the state they have to keep in check.