Girl’s fall from ride latest incident at Vallejo’s Six Flags Marine World

By Karen Gaudette, The Associated Press
Monday June 10, 2002

OAKLAND – A four-year-old girl suffered head injuries after falling from a whirling ride at Vallejo’s Six Flags Marine World — the second parkgoer to tumble from the “Starfish” in as many years. The accident comes at a time when lawmakers are calling for tougher restrictions on amusement park rides. 

The girl, whom authorities would not identify, was in serious condition Sunday and was undergoing treatment at Children’s Hospital Oakland, said Vanya Rainova, a hospital spokeswoman. Jeff Jouett, a spokesman for the park, said all safety equipment was working properly. 

Recent deaths and mishaps around the country have prompted parents, lawmakers and federal officials to call for improved safety in the $9.6 billion amusement park industry. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission statistics show the number of amusement park-related injuries treated in emergency rooms steadily climbed from about 7,000 in 1993 to roughly 10,500 in 2000. 

Industry analysts say consumers are demanding faster, more exciting rides, which operators increasingly outfit with computerized safety restraints. Despite high-rise drops and roller coasters that top 100 mph, The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, a trade group, claims on its Web site that amusement rides remain among the safest recreational activities and disputes that rides have caused brain injuries. 

“Visiting a theme park today is far safer than bicycling, swimming, skiing, playing soccer and dozens of other recreational activities,” a statement said. 

All safety equipment was working Saturday, said Jeff Jouett, the park’s spokesman. The injured girl fell despite a pair of locked lap bars, and her mother still was locked in the ride after her daughter’s fall, he said. The girl exceeded the ride’s height requirement, posted at the entrance. And the ride is electronically programmed — as are many around the country — to stop if any restraints come unlocked. 

“We just don’t know at this point how the child got out of the ride,” Jouett said, adding the ride will be closed awaiting a safety inspection by the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

The incident was not the first at the Starfish, which Jouett described as a “moderate” ride that reaches heights of 12 feet and is frequented by families. A 41-year-old woman received minor injuries after falling from the ride last May, which prompted the park to add a second lap bar restraint, Jouett said. The woman has sued the park and the ride’s manufacturer, Chance Rides, Inc. of Kansas, he said. 

Last September, a 42-year-old woman died of a brain hemorrhage after riding the park’s spinning tea cup attraction. However, no autopsy was performed and state officials said there was no medical evidence to show the ride contributed to her death. Also five roller coaster riders sued the park last year after a ride malfunctioned, leaving them stuck nearly upside down for four hours in triple digit heat. 

The park has defended its safety record, saying it is among the nation’s best.