One dead, multiple injured after ride malfunctions at Ohio State Fair

Posted at 9:05 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-27 11:42:59-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A chaotic scene unfolded at the Ohio State Fair after a ride malfunctioned during opening day — killing one person and injuring several others.

A video posted online appears to show several people on the Fireball ride seconds before parts of the structure, including a full row of seats, split up and fell.

Tragedy struck around 7:20 pm (local time) Wednesday at the popular fair in Columbus. The Fireball, which consists of at least six rows of seats that spin around 40 feet above the ground as the entire structure moves like a pendulum, broke apart while it was in motion.

Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Paul A. Pride said one person was killed and seven others were injured, two of whom are in critical condition.

‘It’s my worst nightmare’

Rhonda Burgess said one of his sons was standing in line at a nearby ride when the incident took place.

“The ride had four riders per cart. This piece snapped off and the riders came out of the cart,” she said. “At least two (people) flew through the air at least 20 feet before landing on their backs on the concrete.”

Within seconds, Kaylie Bellomy found herself in the middle of a crowd. She had been waiting her turn to get on the Fireball when she watched the turmoil erupt.

“Everybody was running. I got ran over trying to get out of the way,” she told CNN affiliate WCMH. “I just don’t think I’ll ever ride a ride ever again.”

Deputies asked attendees standing near the ride to step back as someone screamed “it’s my worst nightmare,” video footage shows. Workers were also seen placing barriers as medics and staff tend to those injured.

Three patients were taken to Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Eileen Scahill said.

As of Thursday, one was in serious condition and the two others were in critical condition, the hospital said in a statement.

David Evans, the center’s medical director, said it was helpful to see video of the incident that was posted to social media because it helped them look for certain types of injuries.

“Having that video really showed us that this was a great force and a great mechanism, really consistent with a high-speed motor vehicle crash with an ejection, really something more along those lines,” he said.

The other four people injured were taken to Ohio Health Grant Medical Center. CNN has reached out to that facility for an update on their conditions.

The Fireball

For days, inspectors had overseen the assembly and then inspected around 70 rides ahead of opening day.

“My children, my grandchildren ride this equipment so our guys do not rush through this stuff,” said Michael Vartorella, chief ride inspector of the Amusement Ride Safety Division.

Four rides failed an inspection on Monday, but there were no red flags when inspectors examined the Fireball.

The “aggressive thrill” has become one of the most popular thrill rides since its debut in 2002, Amusements of America, the rides’ operator says on its website.

“It was inspected at couple of different stages and it was signed off today,” he told reporters.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich quickly ordered a full investigation into the incident and ordered all fair rides to shut down.

“The fair is about the best things in life and tonight with this accident it becomes a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Kasich said in a news conference.

The Ohio State Fair draws thousands of people for its deep-fried foods, thrill rides and its unique life-size butter cow sculptures. Last year, more than 920,000 people attended the fair, organizers said.

Most activities will resume Thursday while the rides undergo new inspections, fair officials said.

“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,” they said in a statement.

The Columbus Dispatch reported the inspections were delayed by recent rain. It was the first day of the fair.

A similar ride in California was closed when authorities ordered a second inspection, Orange County fair officials told CNN affiliate KABC.

No problems had been reported but officials said they took the decision out of precaution.