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Ohio Taking Precautions Before State Fair, First Since Ride Tragedy

Adora Namigadde
Before the Ohio State Fair opens, inspectors say they're doing additional testing of amusement rides.

The Ohio State Fair starts Wednesday, July 25, one year after a ride malfunction led to the death of an 18-year-old man. State officials say they are implementing additional testing to prevent such tragedies this year.

Last year, Columbus resident Tyler Jarrell was killed and seven others were injured when the Fire Ball broke apart mid-ride. Gov. John Kasich called it the worst tragedy in the history of the State Fair.

This year, Ohio Department of Agriculture director David Daniels says inspectors will perform more ride examinations.

“Daily operational spot checks will be conducted during the entire duration of the fair, and there will be daily reviews of all maintenance logs, operator training, and pre-opening inspection reports by our inspectors,” Daniels says.

A WOSU investigation last year found that ride inspections vary state-to-state, and in Ohio, it's the responsibility of ride owners to report any accidents or malfunctions. There's no federal database or oversight about amusement ride safety. 

The Department of Agriculture says ride manufacturers are now providing more information about detecting corrosion. Manufacturer KMG determined such "excessive corrosion" causedthe Fire Ball's failure last year.

“The comprehensive inspections the manufacturers put out are the biggest changes. The non-destructive testing work, you're gonna hear this all day long: 'NDT, NDT,'” says Chief Ride Inspector Mike Vartorella. "That's actually either doing something on aluminum non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metals get a different inspection to get thickness and see if there's any cracks and stuff.”

According to Vortorella, there will be state inspectors on-site during the entire duration of the Ohio State Fair, which ends Sunday, August 5.

“The entire amusement ride safety office has been moved to the fairgrounds to assist our inspectors with immediate administrative support to more quickly process inspection reports and so on,” Daniels says.

In the year since the ride malfunction, most of how Ohio deals with ride inspections has not changed. An Ohio billcalling for more state inspectors, named 'Tyler's Law" after Jarrell, has not moved in the House since May. Just like last year, there are still just eight full-time inspectors checking rides.

The State Fair's ride vendor, Amusements of America, remains the same as well. The company is in its last year of a multi-year contract.

The state filed no criminal chargesafter the ride malfunction, although settlements were reached with Jarrell's family and a woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the accident.

Attendance for the 2017 Ohio State Fair was the event's lowest in years, with an estimated 801,031 visitors.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.