Rhode Island Investigators Complete Probe Into Circus Accident


Local investigators have completed an initial probe into a circus accident that sent eight acrobats plummeting about 20 feet to the ground during a hair-hanging stunt and are turning over a broken clip and other material to federal workplace safety investigators, a city fire official said Tuesday.

The carabiner clip was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that was suspending the acrobats during Sunday morning’s performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus before 3,900 people, many of them children.

It’s unclear why the 4- to 5-inch (11-13-centimeter) steel clip broke into three pieces, fire investigator Paul Doughty said. That is up to investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine.

Doughty said investigators have narrowed down the cause of the broken clip to two possibilities: a manufacturing defect or improper use. The latter could have to do with how it was installed in the rigging, he said.

“For example, it could only be used in the long directions, it can’t be sideways,” he said. “When you get involved with rigging, angles become very, very important.”

Doughty said they would also be turning over interviews, initial findings and measurements.

The circus packed up and headed for Connecticut without eight of its acrobats, some of whom remained hospitalized in Providence. When the clip snapped, the women fell 20 feet or more to the ground, and the apparatus landed on them.

Relatives and rescuers said the women suffered injuries including a pierced liver, neck and back fractures, broken ankles and head injuries.

One of the women, Samantha Pitard, has been released, Rhode Island Hospital said Tuesday night.

The hospital said four others remained in serious condition and three others have asked that no more information be released about them. The hospital had said Tuesday morning four of the eight were in good condition.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare stopped short of saying the carabiner was the cause of the accident. OSHA is trying to make a final determination.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company, said the circus inspected all of its equipment on Monday night when it loaded up in Providence and planned another inspection when it unloaded in Hartford, Connecticut. He said the circus is replacing each carabiner in the show before the next performance, on Thursday in Hartford. The hair act will not be performed there, the company said.

The equipment has been used dozens of times per week since the beginning of the year, and a circus crew had installed it last week, Payne said. The crew told investigators the clip had been visually inspected before the show.

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