Northern California Carnival Ride Collapses, Injures 23

May 19, 2008

California safety inspectors are investigating what caused the mechanical failure of a carnival ride that injured 23 people, mostly children, at the Calaveras County Fair.

The swinging-chair ride, called the Yo-Yo, broke down on May 16 sending the riders crashing to the ground. Three of the injured passengers were airlifted to hospitals in Sacramento and Modesto.

The accident occurred at the annual Calaveras County Fair, best known for its Jumping Frog Jubilee, just outside the Gold Rush-era town of Angels Camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“This was a traumatic accident. It wasn’t something that any of us expected,” said Ray Malerbi, CEO of the Calaveras County Fair. “Our first concern is for the people that were hurt.”

All but one of the injured patrons sent to area hospitals for treatment had been released Saturday, May 17, Malerbi said.

Inspectors from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investingating the accident and inspecting all the carnival rides.

Most of the rides were scheduled to reopen May 17 after OSHA officials finished inspecting them, but the Yo-Yo will stay closed while officials investigate the accident, Malerbi said.

OSHA officials did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

The Yo-Yo ride has a series of metal arms extending from a center poll. A chair is attached to the end of each arm by a chain, and the arms and chairs swing outward as the machine spins and picks up speed.

The accident occurred when all of the arms and chairs suddenly collapsed, dragging the passengers on the ground until the machine finally came to a half, according to witnesses.

“It was spinning in the air and then it just dropped,” said Mark Pearson, 14, of Jenny Lind. “It was all tangled and everything. Little kids were just laying there screaming. People were screaming, ‘Oh my God, it’s horrible!’ … Then I saw people lying on the ground, with blood out of their legs. It scared me.”

Pearson said he had ridden the Yo-Yo when it first opened on May 16. He said he had complained to the operator that the ride felt shaky.

“It started going higher and faster,” Pearson said. “The guy who was working it said nothing’s wrong with it.”

All the carnival rides, including the Yo-Yo, are owned and operated by Oroville-based Brass Ring Amusements, which has never been cited by state safety inspectors, said owner Harry Mason.

“In 31 years in the business, I have never seen anything like this before. This is just absolutely sickening to me,” Mason said. “My concern first and foremost is the children. My children ride my rides.”

The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee opened May 14 and is held each year in late May. It was inspired by a Mark Twain story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which focuses on a character and his jumping frog, named Dan’l Webster.

Last year’s jumping frog contest drew 4,000 entries. This year’s final was held May 18.

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