The manufacturer of a ride that malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair last month said excessive corrosion led to the “catastrophic failure” in which one person was killed and several others were injured.
The Fire Ball, an “aggressive thrill” carnival ride that swoops like a pendulum and swings in a circle, collapsed July 26 at the state fair in Columbus. Tyler Jarrell, 18, was killed after he was thrown as a row of seats appeared to smash into a metal structural support beam. The incident 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.”
Albert Kroon, product manager for the manufacturer, KMG, said in a statement Sunday that after an inspection of the ride, which was 18 years old, it was determined that “excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years” and “led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation.”
The Fire Ball, which debuted in 2002, could pivot and swirl as high as 40 feet at 13 revolutions a minute, according to a description from Amusements of America.
Michael Vartorella, a ride inspector with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, told reporters last month his team oversees 4,300 pieces of equipment in the state, which are carefully inspected to ensure working condition of electrical systems and hydraulics and structural integrity. He said the Fire Ball was inspected three or four times before the start of the state fair.
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.
Following the incident, videos showing the ride’s malfunction and the ensuing chaos were shared widely on social media. One showed the six rows that form the gondola wheel — each with four seats — rocketing side to side along a parabolic arc. As it swooped down and over the ride’s platform, at least two of the rows appeared to strike a metal structural support beam. A loud screech could be heard as one row snapped off, but it was unclear whether the break or the impact with the beam generated the noise.
Battalion Chief Steve Martin, a spokesman for the Columbus Fire Division, told the Columbus Dispatch that two people were launched into the air, and Jarrell landed on the ground some 50 feet from the ride.
Authorities identified the injured victims as Tamika Dunlap, 36; Russell Franks, 42; Keziah Lewis, 19; Jacob Andrews, 22; Jennifer Lambert, 18; and Abdihakim Hussein, 19. A 14-year-old boy also injured was not publicly identified, according to ABC News.
The station reported that similar rides in other states have been shut down as a precaution.
Days before Jarrell was killed, he had enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Staff Sgt. James Hopper of the Marine Corps Columbus recruiting station told The Washington Post at the time 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 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.
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, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Jarrell’s father, Anthony Jarrell, told ABC News 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?” the teen’s father told ABC News.
Katie Mettler contributed to this report.