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lagoon inspects roller coasters on daily basis for safety reasons

By Bryon Saxton - | Aug 1, 2013
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NICK SHORT/Standard-ExaminerSteve Elswick inspects Jet Star II on Wednesday at lagoon in Farmington. The maintenance team inspects each ride daily, checking for loose bolts and stress cracks.

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NICK SHORT/Standard-ExaminerSteve Elswick inspects Jet Star II on Wednesday at lagoon in Farmington. The maintenance team inspects each ride daily, checking for loose bolts and stress cracks.

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NICK SHORT/Standard-ExaminerSteve Elswick inspects Jet Star II on Wednesday at lagoon in Farmington with the Ferris Wheel in the background. The maintenance team inspects each ride daily, checking for loose bolts and stress cracks.

FARMINGTON — Lagoon Amusement Park staff inspect each ride three times daily before opening the park.

The large, wooden roller coaster is inspected four times a day — with the additional inspection performed by carpenters.

“It is in our best interest to have the safest rides possible,” Lagoon advertising manager Adam Leishman said.

The park has self-imposed inspections to meet American Society for Testing and Materials standards; independent inspections performed by an out-of-state ride inspector; inspections performed by the park’s insurance carrier; the Davis County Health Department’s oversight of the park’s water park; and the Utah Department of Transportation’s oversight of the park’s Sky Ride attraction — similar to the inspections UDOT performs on Utah ski resort lifts.

Still, Leishman said he is not surprised the topic of amusement park safety has been raised as a result of a recent Texas amusement park fatality.

Some federal officials claim now may be the time to consider more consistent, stringent federal oversight when it comes to permanent-site amusement parks. The July 19 death of a woman who fell 75 feet from the Six Flags Over Texas “Texas Giant” roller coaster has reinvigorated that discussion.

“A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 mph,” Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat, said this week, according to an Associated Press story.

As a congressman, Markey tried for years to have the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission — which oversees mobile carnival rides — regulate fixed-site amusement parks.

But Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Layton State Senator Stuart Adams, R-Layton, question the need for such oversight.

“The death of the lady in Texas is tragic. She deserves more respect than some member of Congress trying to generate publicity,” Bishop said.

Bishop said he is aware of Markey’s efforts, but believes his action “is not a serious piece of legislation.”

Lagoon officials, in their response to the media, said they have clearly illustrated there is no need for federal government oversight when it comes to ride inspections.

“Safety is our No.1 priority,” Leishman said of Lagoon, which is proud of its safety record.

“Our rides all have multiple redundancies in the safety system,” he said.

The last fatality to occur at the Farmington amusement park was in 1989, when a young woman fell to her death from the Giant Wooden Roller Coaster.

The park was cleared of any fault in the death and the accident is in no way related to what recently occurred in Texas, Leishman said. “The bottom line is, we take our safety very, very seriously.”

Leishman said, should federal oversight be applied, he is certain Lagoon, now it is 127th year of operation, would be able to adhere to the changes because its self-imposed regulations are already so stringent.

“We’re on it,” he said.

A spokeswoman with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions said that the trade group believes state officials “are best able to determine the level of regulation needed for their state.”

And Adams, a Layton state senator, couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t see (the federal government) as an avenue to handle this issue,” Adams said.

Such a move would be a knee-jerk reaction to something that can be handled on a local level, Adams said.

Ride safety is important to the public, Adams said, and Lagoon has demonstrated a good safety record, including ride safety.

In Texas, the Department of Insurance requires that an amusement park’s insurance company perform a yearly inspection and carry $1 million liability insurance on each ride, agency spokesman Jerry Hagins said. Six Flags Over Texas was in compliance with those rules at the time of Rose Ayala-Goana’s July 19 fatal fall from the wooden coaster with steel rails that features a drop of 79 degrees and banked turns.

Six Flags Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Jim Reid-Anderson has said it’s using “both internal and external experts” to investigate Ayala-Goana’s death in Arlington.

The park doesn’t need to submit a report to the state on what caused her to fall, and while Arlington police are also looking into the death, they aren’t investigating the ride.

“The question is: Will they release it, and will it be complete and comprehensive?” said Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety analyst who owns KRM Consulting, of Richmond, Va. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions, and because of the way it is in Texas, we might not ever have the answer to those questions.”

Martin noted that both the stringency of inspection regulations and which entity oversees those inspections vary across the country.

“In some states you have the Department of Agriculture, some states you have the Department of Labor. In Texas it’s the Department of Insurance. In Virginia it happens to be the local building inspector,” Martin said.

An annual inspection that’s submitted to Texas would check everything from the structure’s wood and foundation to the cars and its wheels, as well as a review of the maintenance records, he said. It’s also typical in the industry for the park’s maintenance staff to inspect a ride daily, he said.

After an injury that requires medical attention and is possibly the result of equipment failure, structural failure or operator error, Texas parks must shut down the ride and re-inspect it. The Texas Giant has been closed since Ayana-Goala’s death and won’t reopen until the department sees a new safety inspection report, Hagins said.

Amusement park trade group spokeswoman Colleen Mangone said 44 state governments regulate parks. The six without state oversight — Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah — have few amusement parks, if any, she said.

“There is no evidence that federal oversight would improve on the already excellent safety record of the industry,” she said, noting the association’s statistics show the likelihood of being seriously injured is 1 in 24 million; for dying, it’s 1 in 750 million.

“Safety is the number one priority for the amusement park industry and events like the one at Six Flags Over Texas are rare,” she wrote.

Voluntary standards for amusement park rides are issued by ASTM International, a global organization that draws from, among others, industry professionals. Martin said some states have adopted those standards into law.


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