A 13-year-old boy leaped from the Shockwave roller coaster at Paramount's Kings Dominion last week after he became concerned that his safety restraints were too loose, the youth and park officials said.
The incident occurred on the same roller coaster from which a New York City man fell to his death last month after he apparently freed himself from the restraints. Park officials reopened the ride after they and officials in Hanover County, Va., where the park is located, declared the coaster safe. They attributed the death to misbehavior by the rider.
Park officials said yesterday that the two episodes were unrelated. They inspected the Shockwave after the Sept. 2 incident, in which the boy said he twisted a knee, and said they found nothing wrong with it. Officials believe the boy, Eamon McIntyre, of Dale City, mistakenly thought his shoulder harness was not working as the ride started.
"The only safety device that worked on that whole ride was when he jumped off it," said Eamon's father, Donald McIntyre Jr.
After six deaths this year on amusement park rides nationwide, including the death of Timothy Fan at Kings Dominion, many of those who love the rides' thrills started to wonder whether those thrills were safe. In California, the state legislature has approved a bill that would create the first state inspection program for theme parks. In Virginia, that authority rests with local jurisdictions.
Experts in the amusement park industry and in regulatory agencies say coasters and other park rides remain a very safe form of entertainment. Kings Dominion officials point out that 13 million people have ridden on the Shockwave coaster without serious injury.
During the coaster's two-minute trip, the Shockwave climbs 95 feet and plunges the train's 24 standing riders through a steep vertical loop and a sideways spiral before returning to the station.
The coaster is equipped with a "double-restraint" system that includes a shoulder harness and a waist-level guard, designed to keep the standing riders firmly in place.
Eamon McIntyre and his friends Mike Crutchman, 14, and Adam Edwards, 13, said they were taking their fifth consecutive ride on the Shockwave when the incident occurred about 6:30 p.m. last Thursday. Another friend, Brandon Edwards, 14, said he joined them for this trip.
Eamon said he was in a seat that either he or one of his friends had been in during three of their previous four rides. The boys said they detected no problems with the harness on the earlier rides.
According to Eamon, a ride operator pulled lightly on his shoulder harness to check it, but when the automatic locks clicked, signifying the beginning of the ride, the boy realized he was not securely fastened.
Eamon said he started screaming: "It's not locked!"
Eamon's friends and a couple of the other passengers took up his cry, but they were unable to gain the attention of the ride's operators, Eamon and his friends said.
A woman walking nearby heard their shouts and ran to tell the operator, the boys said. The operator told Eamon to stay put while he tried to signal the chief operator to stop the ride, the boy said.
Ignoring the operator's instructions, Eamon slipped under his waist-level restraint and jumped from the car as it climbed up the coaster's first incline about 30 feet above the ground. Eamon said he landed on a catwalk, twisting his knee, and then walked downstairs, where he was met by one of the ride's operators.
Almost immediately, the Shockwave stopped, the boys said, and Mike Crutchman and the Edwards brothers asked to get off. Adam and Brandon Edwards said they were assured by the ride's operators that the coaster was safe and were not allowed to disembark.
At the end of the ride, one of the operators gave the boys passes for a free trip on the coaster, which the boys did not use.
They were not detained or asked any questions, they said. A few minutes later, the boys met up with some of their parents and recounted the incident. The parents reported it to park officials.
"I think sometimes there is a guest perception that something may not be quite right, especially in light of recent incidents," said Susan Lomax, a spokeswoman for Kings Dominion.
The ride's restraint system is designed to lock into place and prohibit people from squirming out of it once the ride has started. Park officials said they do not know how Eamon freed himself.
"Obviously he wriggled himself out," Lomax said. "But we had the ride mechanics come out, and they found no indication of mechanical failure. In this situation, the ride managers did what they felt was appropriate."
Eamon's father remained concerned about the ride's safety. "We get the feeling they're in denial," he said. "They don't think their machine can fail. If it happened now, it can happen again."
Brian Gentilini, a supervisor in the Hanover County building inspector's office, which inspected the Shockwave after Fan's death, said there was nothing he could do beyond checking the seat, which Kings Dominion already has done.
"As far as I'm concerned," Gentilini said, "the case is closed."
CAPTION: Eamon McIntyre, 13, of Dale City, holding a free pass from the park, jumped off a Kings Dominion ride last week.