Update: Kentucky Passes Bill on Thrill Ride Operation after Grisly Accident

April 4, 2008

Most high schoolers will soon be barred from operating thrill rides in Kentucky after a grisly accident last year severed the feet of a girl at a Louisville amusement park.

The state Senate voted 37-0 on Tuesday night for final passage of legislation that prohibits anyone younger than 18 from operating such rides. The House passed the bill 97-0 on Thursday.

“This is long overdue legislation,” said state Sen. Tom Jensen, a Republican and sponsor of the bill, which drew opposition from the amusement industry. “It is a good step forward on safety.”

Gov. Steve Beshear has supported the bill and will sign it into law, spokesman Dick Brown said. The measure would take effect in July.

The move comes less than a year after the accident on the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom ride, which was being operated by a 16 year old.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is awaiting tests on the broken cable at the Superman Tower of Power ride to determine what caused it to snap, severing the feet of 14-year-old Kaitlyn Lasitter of Louisville.

The state agency, which inspects amusement park rides, has said it is unclear whether the Kentucky Kingdom accident could have been prevented if the changes lawmakers are seeking had been in place last year.

Only 10 states require ride operators to be at least 18, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Another 17 states require ride operators to be at least 16. The others, including Kentucky, currently have no age requirement.

David Mandt, spokesman for the industry group, said Kentucky lawmakers may be unnecessarily shrinking the labor pool that amusement parks can draw from.

“It can take several thousand — up to 4,000 or so — to staff a park,” Mandt said. “This new 18-year-old requirement may make it more difficult to staff the attractions in Kentucky.”

Mandt said he believes the law is unnecessary.

“I’m not aware of any data that links 16- or 17-year-old ride operators to a higher rate of incidents,” he said.

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. Doctors were able to reattach the girl’s right foot.

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