Ohio State Fair accident kills 1, injures 7; Fire Ball, other rides shut down

COLUMBUS – One man died and seven people were injured Wednesday in a ride accident at the Ohio State Fair. After an order from the governor, rides went dark and will not reopen until they receive further inspections Thursday.

The Fire Ball ride malfunctioned just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, throwing riders at high speeds into the air, hospital and fire officials said. The man who died in the accident was found about 50 feet from the attraction, said Steve Martin, battalion chief with the Columbus Fire Department. 

In video of the incident posted to YouTube, a loud crashing noise can be heard as the arm of the ride swings upward and a large piece of it falls off. At least two bodies appear to fall as well.

On the State Fair midway late Wednesday, orange seats from the Fire Ball ride rested on the ground, surrounded by other debris. The rest of the ride appeared to be intact.  A single tennis shoe rested on the ground at the base of the ride.

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Of those injured, five were taken to area hospitals. The three taken to Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center were all in intensive care late Wednesday with mostly orthopedic injuries, and one person was in surgery, said Dr. David Evans, a trauma surgeon at the hospital. Early Thursday, one of the patients was in serious condition and two were in critical condition.

The State Fair accident was like a car crash, Evans said, with riders thrown at least 20 to 30 feet in the air. The victims taken to the Ohio State hospital will probably require stays of at least a week, he said. 
The Fire Ball, an "aggressive thrill" ride, swings riders 40 feet above the midway while spinning them at 13 revolutions per minute, according to Amusements of America, the company providing rides at the fair this year. Fire Ball debuted in 2002, the company says on its website.

The ride had received multiple inspections before Wednesday’s opening day incident, Kasich said. That included checks by a company, Comspeq, plus the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which inspects more than 4,000 rides statewide, including those at Kings Island and Cedar Point.

“We do not rush inspections,” said David Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The department's chief inspector, Mike Vartorella, said his grandchildren ride the attractions at the State Fair.

Documents shared by the state show the Fire Ball passed structural and electrical checks on Wednesday. That particular ride also passed inspections at the Meadowlands State Fair in New Jersey, where it was checked from June 22 to July 9. The latest repair was to a cylinder on a seat on May 15. The front trailer was replaced May 6.

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Eleven Ohio State Fair rides did not run Wednesday because they failed inspection. But inspectors had not flagged the Fire Ball for closure.

"Safety is our number one priority," says the website of the ride provider. "All Amusements of America rides are regularly checked daily by our safety professionals.

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"To ensure regulatory standards, licensing requirements and rider safety, the rides undergo consistent on-site inspections. These frequent comprehensive inspections are by conducted by local and state inspectors. We will present only rides that are modern, well illuminated and in safe operating condition."

The company did not immediately return an Associated Press phone message seeking comment.

The annual fair runs through Aug. 6. It will reopen Thursday.

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