Gravity Of The Situation
Two kids hurt at the fair.
Thursday, September 28, 2000
Having a child get injured on a carnival ride is the stuff of parents'' (not to mention carnival operators'') nightmares. At the Monterey County Fair last month, two local kids did get hurt--on the same ride and within 24 hours of each other.
Rachel Salak, 13, was at the fair with friends on Aug. 19 when she decided to ride the Gravitron, a circular spinning ride that creates enough centrifugal force to press the riders against panels behind them. Rachel had turned upside down, as some kids do on the Gravitron, when she says she felt something come loose. In an instant, she found herself knocking around in the unprotected area behind the ride''s panels. The operator stopped the ride immediately, police called an ambulance, and Rachel went to the hospital with a lump on her head and three abrasions on her back.
The next afternoon, Robin and Pat Salak, Rachel''s parents, went to the fairgrounds and, seeing the Gravitron still in operation, complained to Michele Wakeham, the fair''s CEO. What most concerned them, says Robin, was that the ride operator seemed to pooh-pooh Rachel''s injuries and that no one seemed to care. "No one even called to see how she was doing," fumes Robin.
While the Salaks were talking to Wakeham, the Gravitron struck again.
Ann Riberas says the ride was already going when her 10-year-old son, Adam, bent down to secure his shoe, which was slipping off. "He came unstuck, basically, from the wall," she explains, adding that he was next to a panel that was not padded and cut the left side of his face when he got thrown against it. Again the ride stopped, a security guard called an ambulance, and Adam left on a gurney with a bruised cheekbone, a cut beneath his eyebrow and a sprained wrist. "He looked like he was in a fight with a 2x4, and the 2x4 won," she recalls.
Yuma, Ariz.-based B&B Amusements, the carnival operator, did not return repeated phone calls from the Weekly. Like other carnivals, B&B provided liability insurance, so any claims would be filed against it, not the fair. Dean Fryer, a spokesman for the state Department of Industrial Relations (the entity that inspects amusement rides), says the department has investigated B&B in the past. "How they compare to other companies, I can''t say that," he says, "but we''ve worked with them a lot."
In Dec. 1999, the Austin American-Statesman reported that B&B Amusements was indicted on charges of manslaughter in the death of a Texas teenager, who fell off a ride called the Himalaya at a B&B carnival in 1998. B&B owner Robert Dale Merten Sr. was also charged.
Wakeham says accidents like these are very unusual and stresses that carnival rides are inspected each time a carnival sets up. "I have more confidence putting my children on carnival rides than on amusement park rides," she says. She also explains that "it''s very important to make sure people who are riding the rides are following the rules."
As for the conduct of the ride operator who was present when Rachel Salak was hurt, Wakeham contends that it was appropriate. "My understanding is the ride operator asked her if she wanted medical assistance and she said she was fine."
At this time, the Salaks and the Riberases are hoping to settle with B&B Amusements to recoup their medical expenses.