By Bill Bush-Columbus Dispatch/Tribune News ServiceLaura A. Bischoff
July 25, 2019
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda moved Thursday to shut down five rides — one permanently — on the second day of the Ohio State Fair.
Two weeks ago as she showed off a newly refurbished chairlift ride at the State Fairgrounds, Pelanda warned she will shut down any amusement ride if state inspectors can’t verify the condition of critical internal parts not visible to them.
On Thursday, she shut down permanently the Kissell’s Military Base ride because it showed “visible corrosion.” Four other rides could be open after minor repairs are completed, she said.
Interior corrosion caused the 72-foot-tall, 54-ton Fire Ball ride to break apart at the Ohio State Fair in July 2017, immediately killing Tyler Jarrell, 18, who was thrown from a gondola. Six others were injured. One of them, Jennifer Lambert, 19, died in September 2018 after having suffered major brain damage.
The ride’s manufacturer determined that “excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years (which) … finally led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation.”After the fatal collapse, then-Gov. John Kasich pledged that Ohio would learn from the tragedy and would share those lessons to better protect the public. But it wasn’t until Gov. Mike DeWine took office in January and appointed Pelanda that the state moved to make substantial changes in the ride-inspection program.
Other changes introduced this year include reclassifying all rides to identify those needing more-comprehensive testing, taking into account hidden components integral to the safety of the ride, and requiring operators to respond in writing within 14 days that any problems identified by inspectors have been fixed.
Pelanda also requested a 26% funding increase to the inspection program, which is still pending. In addition to getting almost 100 new chairs, the SkyGlider also was fitted this spring with a new braking system for the first time since it was installed in 1969, keeping its cable from rolling when it’s brought to a stop — a feature that officials didn’t deem critical for the last 50 years. It has also been fitted with new permanent fencing that keeps vehicles from hitting the chairs when they descend to ground level at either end of the ride.
GOVERNOR DEWINE OPENED FAIR WEDNESDAY
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine opened and toured the 2019 Ohio State Fair on Wednesday with the gusto of a Greene County farm boy at heart, recounting 34 years of 4-H Club projects with his eight kids, sampling strawberry ice cream and sharing a creme puff with his wife, Fran, and their 6-year-old grandson.
DeWine strolled through barns, petted sheep, shook hands with farmers, snapped selfies with kids and checked out the butter carvings of cow, calf and the Apollo 11 crew.
It was the melding of his two worlds: farming and retail politics. DeWine, an Ohio politico for more than four decades, grew up in a farm family that ran a seed business. He recalled coming to the state fair as a child and being impressed with the animals and natural resources area.
At the Taste of Ohio, DeWine had an impromptu conversation with Amber Duffield, whose 18-year-old son Tyler Jarrell died two years ago at the state fair when the Fire Ball thrill ride catastrophically failed, flinging Jarrell and other riders to the pavement. Duffield, who has been advocating for increased ride inspections, showed DeWine her necklace charms that pay tribute to her late son.
Duffield said coming to the fair now is “beautifully awful. The beauty is we want to continue to hold dear to our values in what we believe are important. We do hold that the fair is very significant to our state, and it’s been a tradition.”
DeWine said he believes the amusement rides are safe, but he personally doesn’t like them, saying he may venture on the Skyrider chair lift that carries people above the midway.
Fran DeWine, who participated in 4-H cooking and sewing as a child, held a cooking demonstration, showing children how to grind wheat into flour, make dough and assemble pizza.
The fair is expected to draw more than 800,000 visitors over the 12-day run. First started in 1849, the state fair features performances by musicians, jugglers, magicians, comedians; competitions for baking, horticulture, baton twirling, home brewing, drone racing and more; and so many animals — lambs, goats, pigs, poultry, cows, dogs.