The owner of a Maine carnival company and one of the company’s employees have been charged by the Office of the State Fire Marshal in connection with a pair of separate ride accidents at Head of Falls in Waterville last month that injured three children and a woman.

Sgt. Ken Grimes of the fire marshal’s office said Monday that Jeannette Gilmore, 61, of Strong, the owner of Smokey’s Greater Shows, was served a summons charging her with failure to train a mechanical “swing ride” operator, which is a civil or non-criminal violation punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.

That accident occurred the afternoon of June 13 when a woman unbuckled her safety restraint on the Air Time swing ride and fell off it.

“We allege he was not properly trained,” Grimes said of the man who operated the swing ride. “He allowed the ride to operate without the passenger being properly restrained.”

Grimes said Gilmore received the summons because she is the owner of the company and is the “responsible party” for the company.

In addition, Arthur Gillette, 49, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, was issued a summons charging him with falsifying physical evidence, a Class D crime, punishable by up to 364 days in jail or a $2,000 fine or both, Grimes said.


Gillette was the ride supervisor for Smokey’s Greater Shows in Waterville when the malfunction occurred the night of June 12 on the Dragon Wagon roller coaster. In that incident, two of the small roller coaster’s cars decoupled while it was running.

When investigators from the fire marshal’s office arrived, Gillette “was attempting to repair or alter the physical condition of the ride before we were able to get there to investigate it,” Grimes said.

“When we arrived, he was actually working on the Dragon Wagon. He was in the process of trying to make some repairs and modifications to it,” he said. “Our policy is when you have a ride accident, you do what you have to do to evacuate the ride safely, but then you don’t move it, you don’t touch it, you do nothing until we get there.”

Grimes said any changes or modifications to the ride after the accident constitute the violation.

Gilmore and Gillette were charged by the fire marshal’s office over the Fourth of July weekend and they are due in court Sept. 22, Grimes said. The investigations are closed until that court action, he said.

Gillette can continue to work, and Smokey’s shows can continue to operate elsewhere.


“All the rides have been inspected, and at this point we don’t have any knowledge of any deficiencies,” Grimes said Monday.

Gilmore, who did not respond to phone messages or an email on Monday, said in an interview in June that the accidents came as a complete surprise. The Maine company has been in business for 60 years and has a very good safety record, she said.

Ken Martin, a Virginia-based safety consultant in the amusement ride industry, has previously testified in cases involving criminal charges against amusement ride operators in other states. He said Monday that he was heartened by news of the charges in Maine.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” Martin said of charges being brought against carnival owners or supervisors. “I’m a firm believer that an amusement ride needs to be inspected by an independent party all the time. It’s frustrating when we see these things happen, and only a handful of times there are criminal charges. What’s happening, I think, is people are waking up and saying, ‘We need to do something.'”

Martin pointed to a landmark incident in March 1998 when 15-year-old Leslie Lane was killed when her safety bar broke off during a Himalaya amusement ride at the Austin-Travis County Livestock Show and Rodeo in Texas. The ride, operated by B&B Amusements of Yuma, Arizona, was declared safe even after the incident, Martin said. A district attorney investigation resulted in first-degree murder indictments against nine people, but ultimately only the carnival owner and its ride inspector pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

“That was the first case I’m aware of,” Martin said.


Martin said the Waterville accident was preventable and should never have happened.

The solution, in his opinion, would be for the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the carnival owner to inspect amusement rides each time a carnival operation such as Smokey’s moves from one fair location to a new fair site. He said a lot of equipment malfunctions can occur during transit.

“I am a true advocate of inspecting these carnival rides every time they are set up,” Martin said. “What we need most of all is not necessarily more oversight but better oversight.”

News of the two accidents at Smokey’s Greater Shows in Waterville — which occurred less than 24 hours apart — prompted at least one festival last month, Friends of Windjammer Days festival in Boothbay Harbor, to remove Smokey’s rides from its program. While organizers said they “erred on the side of caution” in deciding to cancel Smokey’s rides, other summer festivals are going ahead with the operation.

Mark Primeau, director of the Yarmouth Clam Festival July 17-19, said Monday that the festival has no plans to cancel Smokey’s show. Primeau said that “Smokey’s track record has been great with us” for decades and that the festival works with public safety agencies and conducts local safety inspections to ensure the event is safe each year.

Roy Andrews, president of the Fryeburg Fair Oct. 4-11, said Monday the organization had no intention of dropping Smokey’s. Andrews said the fair has never had any problems in the 32 years Smokey’s has been its amusement vendor.


“I am thinking positive,” Andrews said. “We are very safety conscious, and we don’t want to take any chances. People make mistakes sometimes, and we all learn from it.”

Smokey’s is scheduled to provide rides at Harrison Old Home Days Thursday through Saturday and the Rockland Lobster Festival July 29-Aug. 2. Organizers of those upcoming festivals couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Smokey’s is also scheduled to open its midway for the Skowhegan State Fair Aug. 13-22 and the Farmington Fair Sept. 20-26.

Portland Press Herald staff writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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