New reports detail ride injuries at theme parks

The Associated Press
Monday January 07, 2002

SANTA ANA – Nearly 350 injury reports were filed last year under a new law regulating California theme parks, and they offer a rare glimpse into the secretive ride industry. 

The reports, analyzed by The Orange County Register for Sunday’s paper, show that many injuries at state parks were caused by restraining devices that are supposed to keep riders safe. One third of the injuries were to children, and 73 occurred at California water parks. 

Among the other details: 

• Seventeen patrons suffered bone fractures, including two with broken necks at Raging Waters in San Dimas. 

• Eight riders dislocated their shoulders or knees, including one man whose arms came out of their sockets while he rode the Stealth roller coaster at Paramount’s Great America in Santa Clara. That accident remains under investigation. 

• Fourteen people needed stitches, mostly after hitting their faces on lap bars or crashing into each other at water parks. 

• There were three deaths, two as a result of brain aneurysms that state investigators concluded should not be blamed on the parks. In the third fatal accident, which remains under investigation, a mother of five died after falling from the Perilous Plunge at Knott’s Berry Farm. 

Overall, half of the injury reports and complaints led to full investigations by the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s Permanent Amusement Ride Section, the Register said. 

Half of those investigations ended with requirements to make repairs, retrain employees or review procedures. 

The new ride-inspection program was approved by legislators in 1999 following the deaths of a tourist on Christmas Eve 1998 at Disneyland and a boy who fell from a tower at Paramount’s Great Adventure. 

Last year was the first full year that the ride section’s offices in Sacramento and Anaheim were up and running. 

The new law requires amusement parks to report serious injuries and allows the state to inspect rides after an accident occurs. Technical rules were still being hammered out and were expected to be adopted by late February. 

The requirements aren’t as tough as some lawmakers wanted, but the bill’s author said he is pleased with the results so far. 

“This industry resisted regulation for decades,” said state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. “I am confident amusement parks today are safer because of this (legislation), and the trends are in a positive direction.” 

Ride-safety advocates welcome the new regulation efforts. 

“It’s like night and day now,” said ride-safety advocate Kathy Fackler. “The parks are reporting injuries now. And when big stuff happens, (the state) is going out to do investigations.”