N.Y. Reacts to 4 Amusement Park Deaths in Past Year

April 26, 2006

Under a bill made public Monday, children younger than 11 wouldn’t be allowed to ride alone on amusement park attractions that take them out of the line of sight of the operators.

The legislation, proposed by state Sen. Nicholas Spano, is among six bills resulting from an investigation into four amusement park deaths last summer. One victim was 7-year-old Jon-Kely Cassara, of Norwalk, Conn., who died when he got out of his boat and fell in a dark tunnel on a ride at Playland Park in Rye.

The bill would impose the age requirement when “all participants are not visible to the person in charge” during the ride. A child under 11 could ride if accompanied by an adult or another child, said Spano spokeswoman Nancy Probst.

Spano, a Republican from Yonkers, and Sen. George Maziarz, a Republican from North Tonawanda, held a hearing last month on amusement park safety.

“The deaths that occurred last year were tragic,” Spano said Monday.

The new bills, he said, “will ensure the laws and regulations governing amusement parks and carnivals are not only appropriate and up to date but are being followed and enforced.”

Besides the Playland death, an adult patron and a worker were killed at Adventureland in Farmingdale and a worker died at the state fair in Syracuse.

Playland uses height requirements rather than age requirements, and Jon-Kely had satisfied the 42-inch rule for the boat ride, Ye Old Mill, last Aug. 3. At the hearing, his mother, Elayne Cassara, testified that she would not have allowed him on the ride by himself “had I been properly informed of the true nature of this ride, that it was designed to frighten the patrons, leading them through a long, dark, unsupervised, scary tunnel.”

Cassara is suing Westchester County, owner of the amusement park.

Deputy County Executive Larry Schwartz said Playland welcomes any help in making it “safer than it already is,” but he questioned how a rule about 11-year-olds could be enforced.

“Are kids going to have to stand on line with a birth certificate?” he asked.

Cassara’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kimmel, said Monday that the rule was “a good first step” but said it would be better to impose a camera system that would prevent young riders from being out of sight. He said he was disappointed that the legislation did not include a rating system like the G, PG and R labels for movies, which he had suggested at the hearing.

The other bills would establish an amusement park safety advisory board, increase penalties for violations, create a database to track inspections and safety records, begin a public awareness campaign on safety and bring state standards for amusement devices into line with national standards.

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