WATERVILLE — The swing ride on which a woman was injured Saturday afternoon was back in operation Sunday at a carnival at Head of Falls park, but a second ride remained closed as investigators continued to look into the cause of a mechanical failure that hurt three children Friday.

The four-day carnival, a fundraiser for the Maine Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville, concluded Sunday and featured a midway ride area operated by Smokey’s Greater Shows, a Maine company that operates at summer festivals across the state.

Maine inspects amusement rides only once a year, and Smokey’s inspection came last week at the Waterville carnival the day before it opened, Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Sunday.

The accident Saturday afternoon, was caused by rider error, Thomas said. A woman, who has not been publicly identified, fell off the Air Time swing ride and was taken to Inland Hospital for treatment.

“The young lady had unclipped her restraint prior to the ride coming to a complete stop,” Thomas said. “There was no mechanical error or anything.” The ride was cleared to reopen Saturday night.

Thomas did not have the names of her or the three children injured in Friday’s accident, and did not know the extent of their injuries, but said none of the injuries are considered serious.


Investigators from the Maine fire marshal’s office determined that the accident Friday night on the Dragon Wagon, a small roller coaster, was caused by a mechanical failure and have contacted the ride’s manufacturer, Wisdom Rides of Colorado, for engineering information, Thomas said.

The rides in Maine are inspected when they are first set up for the season, Thomas said, and operators are given an inspection sticker that allows them to operate that ride throughout the year as they move to different sites. Thomas said all 20 rides operated by Smokey’s Greater Shows at the Waterville carnival were inspected last week before the show opened because it was the first time this year that those rides were set up in Maine.

In the Dragon Wagon accident Friday night, two of the cars uncoupled and crashed into each other. One child was taken directly to Thayer Center for Health in Waterville by an ambulance, and the other two were driven to the hospital by parents. All three injured children were treated and released.


A few children and adults were on rides early Sunday afternoon after the carnival opened at noon, but most rides were unoccupied.

Some fairgoers on Sunday said they were exercising caution after the accidents over the weekend.


“We said we were going to come and get a doughboy and not go on any of the rides,” said Sarah Peterson, of Vassalboro, who was visiting the fair with her roommates Jason Webster and Ryan Blakeney.

“I don’t want to get hurt,” she said.

Webster said that he usually goes on carnival rides, but the accidents on Friday and Saturday made him reconsider. He recognized that amusement rides always carry some risk, however.

“The thing is, they’re still rides, so there’s always a chance there’s going to be problems,” Webster said.

Lori Lawler, of Waterville, was surprised to learn that the rides had to pass an annual state inspection.

“I didn’t think they did that here,” she said, when told that rides were inspected every year. She had taken her children to carnival rides when they were young and was getting back into the habit now that she has grandkids.


She trusts the smaller children’s rides that are closer to the ground, but she wouldn’t go on some of the higher adult rides, Lawler said.

“Accidents happen from time to time, even at the large amusement parks,” she said. “You always take a chance no matter what you do, whether it’s on a ride or getting into your car.”

Sharing that sentiment was Rena Gordon, from Waterville, who was watching her 3-year-old daughter, Raine Richardson, happily spinning around on one of the rides. Gordon said she wasn’t worried about her children’s’ safety.

“Accidents happen,” she said. “Kids are kids. Stuff like that’s going to happen.”

“I went on Smokey’s as a kid. I trust them,” Gordon said. “It was inspected before the ride, and it was considered safe and then an accident happened.”



Thomas said six inspectors from his office were in Waterville last Wednesday to inspect 20 rides at the carnival. He said the inspections consist primarily of a visual check of connections and safety equipment, but inspectors also physically check some critical connections. Inspectors follow a checklist provided by the manufacturer.

The rides are not always turned on for an inspection.

“It’s a thorough inspection,” he said, but added that it’s not an engineering inspection, which would include things such as X-rays of connections or metal tests. Most of the rides in Waterville were checked by inspectors who are certified by a national safety organization, although Thomas said not all of his inspectors are certified.

Inspectors check to make sure the rides are set up according to the manufacturers’ specifications and have all the required safety equipment.

“It’s not an engineering inspection; it’s really a visual inspection,” Thomas said.

Rides that pass inspection are given a permit that’s good for the year and aren’t inspected again that year unless there is a complaint or safety concern. In the last three weeks, his office has inspected close to 125 rides, Thomas said.


He likened the work of uncertified inspectors to apprentice plumbers. The apprentices might do some of the work on the job, but their work is then reviewed by a master plumber. The work of uncertified inspectors is backed up by a review by a certified inspector, he said.

“To be honest with you, once we’ve done the rounds of doing all the rides, we really need to go back into business being the fire marshal’s office,” Thomas said. “We’re using the same people we do for fire investigations and life safety inspections in buildings.”

It’s fairly common for people to get minor injuries on an amusement ride, but mechanical errors are much rarer, Thomas said.

The most recent significant mechanical failure on a ride in Maine occurred two years ago on a tilt-a-whirl ride in Livermore Falls, Thomas said.

Thomas said six inspectors from his office are certified by national safety organizations. He said he usually sends two or three inspectors to training to get re-certified each year.

Thomas said he doesn’t have the staff to conduct more frequent inspections.


“When I’m doing inspections, I’m not doing fire investigations,” he said. “When we get into ride season, it’s all hands on deck.”

Thomas said his staff’s authority to do inspections was inadvertently repealed by state lawmakers last year, but then reinstated this year.

“It was a mistake they made when they were purging older statutes,” he said, but was discovered during an investigation into the fatal hayride crash last October in Mechanic Falls.  Cassidy Charette, of Oakland, a 17-year-old Messalonskee High School student was killed in that accident, which injured 20 others.

The Legislature restored the inspection authority this year and also added hayrides to the list of amusement rides that must be inspected. Thomas said the lapse in inspection authority had no effect because it took place over the winter, when the rides are not operating in Maine.

Thomas said a change in the fees for inspections has improved the situation in his office financially.

There used to be a flat $50-per-ride fee, he said, even if it was a large ride that tied up two or three inspectors for much of the day. That has since been increased to $75 per hour per inspector, he said.



Inspection training is typically done by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials, said Ken Martin, a safety consultant in the amusement ride industry.

A call to NAARSO Sunday was not returned.

Inspection rules vary widely by state, said Martin.

Martin, who is based in Virginia, said some states allow ride operators to do the inspections, which are usually required by the operator’s insurer. He said, depending on the state, departments ranging from the fire marshal’s offices to labor or agricultural perform inspections.

He said some states require inspections whenever the rides are set up in a new location, while others, like Maine, require only an annual inspection.


An inspection of the Dragon Wagon ride, he said, would usually involve a spot check of some of the hitches between cars and a thorough check of the pins that hold sections of track together. Martin said he would also inspect how close the loading and unloading area is to the operator’s station. He once offered expert testimony in a case involving a ride similar to the Dragon Wagon in which improper communication between the attendant helping children on and off the ride and the operator resulted in an accident in which a child’s pelvis was broken.

Martin said the jacks that hold up the track also have to be checked.

“There’s only one way to make sure, and that’s to give it a kick,” he said, and added that rides should be running while they’re inspected, primarily to make sure electrical connections are working and safe.

Martin said he had never heard of an accident similar to the one that occurred Friday on the Dragon Wagon ride. He said the cars are required to be connected with a metal hitch and a safety chain and that redundancy should prevent the cars from uncoupling.

Martin said traveling amusement ride shows, like Smokey’s, are often considered safer than the rides at permanent amusement parks  because workers can sometimes detect defects as they take down and set up the rides. But he also said the rides in the traveling shows are subject to more wear and tear as they are frequently taken to different locations.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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