Maine has had a rather difficult history concerning its regulation and safety of amusement parks and other attractions over the past few years. With accidents ranging from the hayride accident that killed a teen to two carnival accidents over the course of two consecutive days, the spotlight has been squarely placed on safety in this industry. The accidents described have been rather high-profile and highlighted the fact that Maine, like most states, relies on a less than comprehensive regulatory regime concerning amusements, carnivals, and other attractions. In fact, at the national level, our system at regulation can only at best be described as a patchwork.
However, it appeared that the prevalence and severity of these accidents have not had the impact that many predicted. Observers believed that these accidents would bring strict enforcement and regulation to, at least, Maine. Unfortunately, it seems that regulation is not coming in any nationwide sense any time in the immediate future. And therefore, consumers and families will be left with inconsistent safety enforcement standards. Additionally, in some states amusement accident data is difficult to come by making informed safety choices difficult or impossible. Furthermore, it appears that state prosecutors will not take civil action against the carnival company involved in last year’s Waterville carnival accidents.
How Did the Waterville Carnival Accidents Occur?
The Waterville, Maine carnival accidents occurred last June at a carnival operated by Smokey’s Greater Shows. The first rollercoaster accident involved a malfunction. The rollercoaster was known as the Dragon Wagon. The roller coaster malfunction injured three children. The ride was closed for a time due to its malfunction and it was assessed by investigators following the problems. Here, investigators believed that a coupling device malfunctioned allowing the parts of the rollercoaster train to separate before crashing into each other.
The second accident occurred one day later when a woman fell from a seat on the Air Time swing ride on a Saturday afternoon. According to news reports and witness testimony from the time, the ride was in operation and in movement when the woman fell. The swing ride has bucket seats that are suspended from metal chains. Due to the centrifugal forces created when the ride spins, the seats acetate outwards and swing out. Reports from the time indicate that it appeared the accident was caused by rider error when she unbuckled the safety harness prematurely.
Charge Dismissed in the Waterville Carnival Accident
Two charges were brought against individuals associated with the carnival and its operation. The first charge was brought against the ride supervisor for the Wagon Dragon, Arthur Gillette, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Mr. Gillette was fined $1,000 for what investigators from the fire marshal’s office described as he, ““was attempting to repair or alter the physical condition of the ride before we were able to get there to investigate it.” This led to a charge of falsifying physical evidence, but no other charges in relation to the condition of the ride or its maintenance.
The Second charge filed is the charge that was dismissed. This charge was brought against the owner of the company for a “failure to train” the mechanical swing ride operator. However, this charge was dismissed Thursday, March 17, 2016. While Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Office of the State Fire Marshal stated at the time that he believed that the operator of the ride was not properly trained, he opined that the reason for the dismissal was, “They are the prosecutors and the ones who certainly have to evaluate the evidence to see what kind of level of proof is needed for a particular charge based on information they’re supplied from our investigation.”
Injured by an Amusement Park or Carnival Ride?
If you or a loved one have suffered a serious injury at a carnival or an amusement park, it is essential to contact a lawyer immediately. As the investigation described above makes clear, it can be difficult or become impossible to locate evidence once time has passed. For non-permanent, traveling carnivals where staff and location frequently changes, it may even be impossible to secure this evidence.