The bungee jump at the Fremont County Fairgrounds was not inspected by fair or local officials prior to an accident that sent a 16-year-old girl to a Denver hospital with a serious head injury Friday.
Wyoming has no statewide regulations governing ride safety at fairs and carnivals, an absence that left some local officials wondering Tuesday if more safety measures were needed as the summer carnival season approaches.
“As far as I know there is no inspection that goes on here, at all,” said Riverton City Manager Steven Weaver. “There is no inspection from the city, or any permit from the city to allow them to do that.”
The girl, who was not identified, was injured when she hit the padding at the base of the bungee jump and then rolled off the contraption, striking her head on the asphalt surface below, said Fremont County Fair and Rodeo Director Barney Cosner. The girl was in stable condition, Riverton Police Capt. C.T. Smith said Tuesday.
Fair officials were unable to determine why she rolled off the pad, which is typically used to propel riders into the air, Cosner said. They ultimately decided to take it down and the ride was shipped back to the manufacturer on Saturday, he said.
The Riverton fair, dubbed the “Fremont County Spring Spectacular,” opened Friday and ran through Sunday. The carnival’s operator, North Star Amusement, did not return a request for comment.
Counties and municipalities are given the option of conducting safety inspections under state statute, but they are not mandatory.
Criss Crozier, executive secretary of the Wyoming Association of Fairs, said Wyoming does not have statewide regulations relating to ride safety.
“It’s different in each county,” she said.
Cosner said Fremont County fair officials did not check the jump prior to the accident. Such inspections are now left to the carnival operator, he said. Cosner was unsure if increased regulations would increase ride safety.
An extra pair of eyes checking the machinery wouldn’t hurt, he said. But they also wouldn’t necessarily prevent potential accidents in the future. He cited Friday’s accident as an example.
“All the safety inspectors you could bring to the table couldn’t have prevented this from happening,” he said.
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Pat Crabtree is president of Crabtree Amusements, which operates three Wyoming fairs, as well as carnivals in Colorado, Louisiana and Texas. Safety inspections vary from state to state, he said.
Colorado and Texas require a third-party investigator to inspect rides annually for insurance purposes, he said. Louisiana employs its own safety inspectors.
Conditions vary in Wyoming, he said. The state sends inspectors to the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas while inspectors check for electrical and fire hazards at the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo in Casper. They do not check the rides there because they lack the expertise to do so, Crabtree said.
He said he is not opposed to enhanced inspections. The company is already inspected frequently. Most important is that the inspectors be qualified, Crabtree said.
“If they haven’t spent time in the field, you now have a guy that doesn’t know what they are looking at,” he said. “Then they’re signing off on something being safe.”
Smith, the Riverton police captain, said North Star Amusement had documentation that an inspection had been completed by an insurance company.
“But to say it was inspected on this day, by this person, we don’t have this information,” he said. The Police Department checked the ride to see if there was evidence of sabotage, of which there was none, he said. They did not conduct a safety inspection.
“We’re not engineers,” he said.
The ride was operated by a subcontractor of North Star Amusements, he said.
Riverton currently has no staff with the expertise to inspect rides, said Weaver, the Riverton manager. But the city needs to look into the issue with the Fremont County Fair looming in July, he said. Weaver started his career in California, where fire departments check all mobile units at fairs and carnivals, he said.
The public should be able to expect that rides are safe when they go to the fair, Weaver said.
“It’s kind of unfortunate because someone got injured pretty bad,” he said.