WATERVILLE — A woman was injured Saturday afternoon in a swing ride accident during a carnival at the Head of Falls park, less than 24 hours after three children were injured in a roller coaster ride malfunction at the same carnival.

Despite the pair of accidents, officials said the other rides at the Waterville carnival would remain open because they had passed inspections this past week. Mary Robinson, office manager for carnival operator Smokey’s Greater Shows, said the amusement park planned to open as usual Sunday.

The accidents will not trigger a re-inspection of the company’s other rides and Smokey’s can continue normal operations, in Waterville and other places, including rides set up at the Old Port Festival in Portland this weekend, according to Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Jessica Handley, of Waterville, who said she witnessed the swing ride accident Saturday afternoon, said it was startling, following news of the roller coaster mishap Friday night.

“It’s crazy — two in a row,” Handley said.

Grimes said he didn’t know whether the company had a record of accidents and would not describe inspection procedures. That information would have to come from the inspections division and no one there would be available until Monday, he said.


Emergency crews were sent in response to the latest injury about 3:45 p.m. Saturday after a woman fell off a seat on the Air Time swing ride while it was still in movement, according to witnesses and Waterville Fire Department officials.

Handley said the ride had just started up when the woman was somehow knocked from her seat and thrown to the ground. The ride has bucket seats suspended with long chains from a rotating disc. The seats are pulled into the air as the disc rotates faster and faster.

Handley said she looked away from the ride for a second and when she turned back, it looked like the woman was stumbling in the moving ride before she was pushed from her seat. The woman remained where she fell until emergency crews arrived, Handley said.

The woman was loaded onto a backboard and taken by ambulance Inland Hospital in Waterville. The injuries were not life-threatening, and Fire Department officials would not release the woman’s name.

The swing ride was shut down after the accident while the fire marshal’s office investigated. At the site late Saturday afternoon, fire marshal investigator Kenneth MacMaster said the investigation wasn’t complete, but it appeared rider error, not an equipment problem, might have caused the accident.

Friday night’s accident, though, is believed to have been caused by an equipment malfunction. The ride — the Dragon Wagon roller coaster — will remain closed until the problem can be identified and repaired.


Stephanie Carver, 27, of Waterville, said her 10-year-old daughter and two sons, 7 and 5, rode the Dragon Wagon half an hour before the accident happened. The family left the ride to get a snow cone and was getting ready to leave when the accident happened, Carver said.

She heard a loud bang and looked over to see two cars on the ride smashed together, and a group of hurt children crying and screaming, Carver said.

There was “blood everywhere,” she said.

Carver said she takes her children to the carnival every year, but after Friday, she intends to keep away from carnivals. There was no level of inspection that would convince her the rides were safe, Carver said, especially since the Dragon Wagon passed inspection only days before the accident.

“I will never bring my kids there again,” she said.

Smokey’s Dragon Wagon ride was inspected for the first time this year on Wednesday, according to Grimes.


A coupling device, holding together cars of the roller coaster-style Dragon Wagon ride, is believed to have malfunctioned and caused the two sides of the ride to come apart and smash into one another, according to Grimes. The fire marshal’s office has completed a preliminary investigation of the accident, but the ride will be closed until the manufacturer is contacted to find out what went wrong and how to fix it so that it doesn’t happen again, Grimes said.

“After that happens, it will be reinspected,” he added.

The Dragon Wagon has eight cars that run on an oval-shaped miniature roller coaster course. According to Grimes, the front half uncoupled from the rear half as the ride was going over a small grade.

“The front half slid down the hill. When it came to the next hill, it stopped and slid back a bit, and the rear half, once it came over the top of the hill, slammed into the front half,” Grimes said.

Three children suffered minor injuries in the crash. A 6-year-old boy was taken from the scene to Inland Hospital in an ambulance for treatment facial injuries, and a 6-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl were taken to the hospital by private vehicle after the event, Grimes said.

“Obviously there was a malfunction of a coupling between the front section and the rear section,” Grimes said. “As far as exactly what occurred, that’s one of the things that we want to discuss with the manufacturer at the beginning of the week.”



The Waterville carnival is being held as a fundraising event for the Maine Home for Little Wanderers. The festival, which began Thursday, opened at noon Saturday and was scheduled to be open noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Grimes said he couldn’t remember another instance when a single company had two accidents in such a short amount of time. The accident Friday was reported at 7:06 p.m.

Jeanette Gilmore, owner of Smokey’s Greater Shows, said in an interview Saturday afternoon that the accident came as a complete surprise. The Maine company has been in business for 60 years and has a very good safety record, she said.

The Dragon Wagon ride was maintained daily and passed a recent state inspection as well as an independent review for insurance, Gilmore said.

“I don’t know why it even happened,” Gilmore said. “I feel very bad that children got hurt, and I’m really sorry about that, but there’s nothing I could do to prevent it.”


The Dragon Wagon is manufactured by Wisdom Ride Inc., an amusement ride manufacturer and retailer based in Merino, Colorado. A call to Wisdom’s offices was not returned Saturday afternoon. On its website, the company calls the Dragon Wagon one of its “proven money makers.”

All the rides at Smokey’s Greater Shows were inspected Wednesday by the fire marshal’s office, and the Dragon Wagon passed that inspection, according to Grimes.

Amusement rides are inspected annually by the fire marshal’s office. The first inspection occurs when the ride is set up for the first time in the year, and it is subject to regular spot inspections.

Malfunctions in mechanical rides “occur from time to time” and there are a number of accidents in Maine every year, Grimes added. He didn’t want to speculate on how many accidents occurred yearly, because he is responsible for overseeing operations only for the central inspections divisions. The fire marshal’s office has northern, central and southern investigations divisions.

There probably will be no fines or penalties because of the accident, Grimes said.

“This is one of those situations that appears to be an unforeseen accident,” he said. “Unfortunately, it resulted in an injury. The families I’m sure would have some sort of remedy, but that would be up to them.”



Attendance at the carnival was slow Saturday afternoon. Although many of the rides were empty, some people were enjoying the bumper cars, the Zipper and the Tornado.

Robinson, the office manager, attributed the low turnout to the hot weather, when people would prefer to be at a beach or a lake. It was about 85 degrees on Saturday afternoon in Waterville.

“I wouldn’t be out there in this, and I wouldn’t bring my grandkids out,” Robinson said.

Despite news of the Friday night accident, Holly and Tim Hubbard, of Waterville, were having a good time on Saturday afternoon with their sons Harper, 5, and Oliver, 3, and their friend, Reese Siodla, 5.

The family loves rides and likes to go to big amusement parks; but when they come to smaller carnivals, they tend to exercise a little more caution by watching other people go on rides and avoiding ones that seem riskier, Tim Hubbard said.


But even if they didn’t go on the rides, they still can enjoy the food and games at the carnival and spend time at Head of Falls.

“One of the reasons we came is because we want to see the space used more,” Tim Hubbard said. “It’s a beautiful resource that gets underutilized.”

Smokey’s Greater Shows provides amusement rides, food and games for many summer festivals in Maine. According to its online schedule, the carnival company is booked straight through the summer for events across the state, including Portland’s Old Port Festival this weekend; the Augusta Whatever Family Fun Festival, which begins June 27; the Yarmouth Clam Festival in late July; the Skowhegan State Fair in August; and the Farmington Fair in September.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239


Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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