News Column

Portable Roller Coasters to Get More Frequent Inspections

July 23, 2013

Unlike the Texas Giant from which a 52-year-old woman fell to her death late Friday at an Arlington amusement park, the ride involved in Houston's latest roller coaster fatality in 2011 was required to be inspected daily.

Why? Because it was a traveling amusement.

Portable rides such as the ones that comprise the midway at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo must have far more inspections under state law than the fixed ones at Six Flags Over Texas.

According to the Tarrant County medical examiner's office, Rosa Ayala-Goana suffered "multiple traumatic injuries" in her fatal fall.

Despite state law and Texas Department of Insurance oversight, amusement inspections in Texas are largely self-regulated by operators and their insurers. Inspectors hired by or authorized by insurance companies determine that rides meet safety standards. Injuries on those rides are mostly operator-reported.

Government agencies do not conduct routine inspections of amusements or safety investigations following an injury or death.

"We don't have engineers on staff. We don't have folks who go around the state to look at rides," Texas Department of Insurance spokesman Jerry Hagins said. "Every ride has to have a $1 million liability insurance policy and an annual safety inspection. They have to send us proof of those two things and we send them a sticker that's good for one year."

'Near-misses' left out

Amusement park safety analyst Ken Martin noted that because injuries are operator-reported, gauging the accuracy of incidents as well as "near-misses," which are not included, is difficult.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is calling for national safety standards to cover amusement park rides following Ayala-Goana's death and said enough serious incidents have occurred to warrant federal investigation.

The industry has argued that accidents, particularly fatal ones, are rare at amusement parks.

Accurate national data about amusement injuries has become increasingly difficult to find because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission last published an annual report on amusement ride-related injuries and deaths in 2006.

As a precaution, the Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio remained closed on Monday as officials investigated what led to the fatal accident at the company's sister park. The Texas Giant will remain closed until an in-house investigation concludes.

One injury on Bullet

The Houston area's roller coasters include the Boardwalk Bullet at the Kemah Boardwalk and the Iron Shark at the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. The Shark, a steel ride that opened a year ago, was designed by Gerstlauer -- the same German company that built the cars on the Texas Giant.

From January 2008 through March 2013, a pulled muscle by a female "shaken" by the coaster in 2009 was the only injury reported for the Bullet, records said. No Shark injuries have been reported.

Walter Reiss, an amusement park ride safety inspector, said deaths are usually the result of "something either ignorant or human error."

He added that the Texas Giant investigation will focus on whether the woman's restraint failed.

Brian Greenhouse, 47, plunged to his death from the Hi Miler roller coaster at the 2011 Houston Rodeo and 3-year-old Kalyn Pennygraph was injured after she slipped under a restraint and flew off the Techno Jump before hitting the ground at last year's rodeo. Both portable amusements were required to have daily inspections.

The Associated Press, the San Antonio Express-News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this report.

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(c)2013 Houston Chronicle

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Source: Copyright Houston_Chronicl 2013


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