Butch Browning, a Louisiana fire marshal reprimanded for several serious oversights by a 2012 state inspector general’s report, admitted last November to all of his offenses but one: approving a defective amusement park ride. Thanks to this approval, two teenagers, a brother and sister, were thrown from the ride and seriously injured—despite the fact that Browning had been warned about the problem that very night. The accident apparently didn’t faze him. After the state of Louisiana recently paid out $180,000 to the family, all Browning had to say was, “I can’t affect what happens in court settlements and conversations between lawyers.” To him, it was evidently no big deal that children’s lives had been imperiled and a family had been traumatized.
State Fair Accident Occurs
The two teens, a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year old boy, were thrown from a ride called “the Zipper” at a school carnival in Greensburg, Louisiana. As they tried to get off the ride, they were propelled 15 feet into the air, landing on the pavement. Needless to say, this caused very serious injury to both. The ride, in fact, was missing two critical parts—a safety switch and a parking brake. But Browning blamed the accident on “operator error,” claiming that the operator “somehow accidentally activated the boom switch at the ride control panel forcing motion of the ride, at the time the riders were exiting their car.”
Soon after the accident occurred, State Police Col. Mike Edmonson exonerated Browning, contending that the fire marshal’s office was only responsible for a spot safety inspection, which does not require checking the owner’s compliance with manufacturing guidelines. But, the state inspector general’s report of November 13, 2012 disagreed, stating that the fire marshal was indeed responsible for overseeing the inspection of amusement park rides, and that it had mishandled the inspection process. One of Browning’s own investigators, Donald Carter, claims that he warned Browning about the danger, but was told to keep this fact out of his investigative report. And a state inspector, Byron Wade, it turns out, approved the ride’s safety stops—when they had been not only modified, but removed.
Fortunately, the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a watchdog organization that targets corruption in New Orleans, alerted the Inspector General. Rafael Goyeneche, the president of this commission, claimed that three of the employees of Mac’s Carnivals and Attractions expressed the belief that the accident wouldn’t have occurred if the inspection had been properly handled.
It is clear that the state of Louisiana was negligent in the handling of this case. It is also clear that it went to great lengths to avoid culpability for its extreme negligence. The question is why any person or organization would choose to condone and cover up its total disregard for the safety of park-goers—and, most importantly, children. This is more than a legal issue of liability; it is a moral and ethical issue.
Unfortunately, this type of indifference about the safety of amusement park rides is typical. Most officials simply don’t take the issue of amusement park safety very seriously. Three factors—sorely inadequate federal oversight, a powerful amusement lobby, and a common belief that fun can’t be dangerous—have contributed to a generalized lethargy about the parks that millions of Americans patronize every year. Even when children are killed on amusement park rides, the public shows an odd indifference. The news dies down within days of being reported, and people forget.
It is time for the public to wake up to the dangers of the amusement world. Anything that threatens children’s lives is serious, whether it be guns or ferris wheels. We must all stand firm against the negligence of amusement park operators and ride manufacturers, the indifference of governmental officials, and the self-interest of amusement park lobbyists. We need to recognize that amusement parks are not solely about fun—and that the amusement industry, like all others, requires regulation and warrants public concern.