Tyler Jarrell, 18, made up his mind early about life after high school. He wanted a challenge, and he looked to the Marine Corps to provide it.
He enlisted on Friday with a training date set for next summer, following graduation. After a flurry of enlistment paperwork over summer break, Jarrell made time for the year’s biggest attraction in his home town of Columbus — the Ohio State Fair, which opened Wednesday.
Jarrell was killed when he was thrown off an amusement ride, the Fire Ball — an “aggressive thrill” carnival ride that swoops like a pendulum and swings in a circle — after a row of seats appeared to smash into a metal structural support beam. The accident left seven others injured, some of them critically, in what Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) called “the worst tragedy in the history of the fair.”
Staff Sgt. James Hopper of the Marine Corps Columbus recruiting station told The Washington Post that Jarrell was a highly motivated recruit among the other “poolies” who wanted to serve in a tough role such as infantry or combat engineering.
“He wanted to serve and do something that would make a huge difference and impact on his life,” Hopper said. “He was a good kid, he was funny and great to be around.”
Hopper said he had heard about the accident but learned later that it was Jarrell who was killed.
“The Marines here are greatly saddened by this tragedy. We are truly proud to have known him as one of the brave few willing to step up and serve his country in the United States Marine Corps,” a statement from the service read.
Navy Capt. Gerard “Tom” Lennon Jr. told the Columbus Dispatch that Jarrell had participated in the Navy junior cadet program at Franklin Heights High School for three years.
“Tyler was an absolute delight. Like so many young people, he spent the last year figuring out what he wanted in life. And he had done so, and he had put the steps in place to make it happen. He was so proud to be serving his country,” Lennon told the Dispatch. “My heart is broken.”
Keziah Lewis, Jarrell’s girlfriend, was with him on the ride. She suffered pelvis, ankle and rib injuries and was operated on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Dispatch reported.
Last year more than 900,000 people attended the fair, which is one of the nation’s largest, according to Cleveland.com, and is slated to continue until Aug. 6.
The fair reopened Thursday morning, but all rides have been shut down until they pass rigorous inspections, ABC News reported.
“Our family owned company is committed to working with state and local experts in trying to determine the cause of this tragic accident,” Amusements of America, the ride operator for the fair, said in a Thursday statement on Facebook.
“The ride was inspected by our staff as well as independent inspectors prior to opening at the Ohio State Fair. We are keeping those impacted by this tragic situation in our prayers and cooperating with those investigating this accident,” the statement said.
Anthony Jarrell, Tyler’s father, told ABC News that his son was “loved and had a future, until the disaster at the Ohio fair.”
“My question is, who [is] responsible for not doing their job of inspecting the rides?” Jarrell told ABC News.
Michael Vartorella, a ride inspector with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said at the news conference that the Fire Ball was inspected three or four times before the fair began.
Vartorella insisted that inspectors did not rush their safety checks, although the Columbus Dispatch reported earlier in the week that rain and flooding delayed inspections until just before the fair opened.
Kasich said there would be a full investigation.
The Fire Ball malfunction and ensuing chaos was caught on video and widely circulated on social media and local news stations Wednesday night. One shows the six rows that form the gondola wheel — each with four seats — rocketing side to side along a parabolic arc. As it swoops down and over the ride’s platform, at least two of the rows appear to strike a metal structural support beam. A loud screech can be heard as one row snaps off, but it is unclear whether the break or the impact with the beam generated the noise.
Travis and Mitch Taylor, 18-year old cousins, witnessed the accident. Just before the Fire Ball tore apart, they climbed from their seats and pondered another spin. But Travis wanted to get food.
“And thank God he did,” Mitch told The Post, “because that’s what saved us.” Just moments later, the cousins watched with horror as their beloved Fire Ball turned lethal.
The cousins shook with fear and said they thought: “What the hell just happened?”
Shocked onlookers screamed and cried, Mitch Taylor said, and almost immediately police and EMS began blocking off the crowd from those who had been ejected during the ride malfunction.
Hopper said he plans to gather all of the other poolies in Jarrell’s cohort on Saturday to tell them what happened.
“He was someone who was going to give 110 percent no matter what. That’s what we’re losing. A kid who wanted to serve his county,” Hopper said.
Katie Mettler contributed to this report.