Kentucky Lawmakers Taking Action after Amusement Ride Accident

March 11, 2008

Kentucky lawmakers are taking steps aimed at improving the safety of amusement rides in the wake of a grisly accident last year that severed the feet of a girl at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville.

A Senate committee approved legislation on March 6 that bars anyone younger than 18 or anyone under the influence of alcohol from operating amusement rides.

The measure would also require amusement ride operators to perform self-inspections each day before opening for business.

The move comes less than a year after a cable snapped on the Superman Tower of Power ride, severing the feet of 14-year-old Kaitlyn Lasitter of Louisville. Doctors were able to reattach the girl’s right foot.

Lasitter and her family are suing Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, claiming the park failed to maintain the ride and equipment and ensure riders’ safety. In court filings, the amusement park has denied liability in the accident.

State officials said an operator of the Louisville ride when the accident occurred was 16 years old. The ride was permanently closed after the accident and is being dismantled.

Randy Lasitter, Kaitlyn’s father, told The Courier-Journal that his family is pleased with the bill. He called it progress toward making sure that ride operators conduct their businesses with public safety in mind.

“This is a long time coming,” he said. “Unfortunately, my daughter had to get injured to get this done.”

Kentucky Kingdom spokeswoman Carolyn McLean told the newspaper that the park “has always complied with regulations as outlined by the state and will continue to do so.”

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture, which inspects amusement park rides, is awaiting tests on a cable from the ride to determine what caused it to snap. Once the tests are complete, the Agriculture Department plans to release findings from its investigation into the accident.

“Our final report should be within the next 30 to 60 days,” said Mark Farrow, chief of staff to Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. “It’s a long process, and it does take time. We want to make sure we got it right.”

Sen. Tom Jensen, R-London, sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes lawmakers will be able to increase funding for the state’s amusement ride inspection program so that additional inspectors can be hired. Farmer wants an additional five inspectors to join the seven full-time and three part-time inspectors currently on staff.

The Department of Agriculture is facing a 12 percent cut in Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed budget. Beshear ordered cuts across state government after economic forecasters projected a $900 million budget shortfall over the next two fiscal years.

Despite the financial constraints, Farrow said it is important that lawmakers make additional funding for inspectors available. The state had 32 amusement ride accidents reported last year. In eight of the cases, the injuries required the victims to be treated at hospitals.

Farrow said it’s unclear whether the Kentucky Kingdom accident could have been prevented if the changes lawmakers are seeking had been in place last year.

Among other provisions of the proposal, maximum fines for violations of amusement ride safety laws and regulations would increase from $1,000 to $10,000.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee approved the measure by a 9-0 vote. It now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The legislation is Senate Bill 203.

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