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Unsafe Rides–There are No Do-Overs When an Event Turns into a Tragedy

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Caleb Schwab was only 10, and, no doubt, he and his family were looking forward to a great time for him at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. So it is a terrible shock for the family and for the other passengers on the Verruckt water slide when this fun day somehow turned into a tragedy, one that possibly could have been avoided.

At some point in the ride, Caleb was ejected from the raft he was in and he hit the safety netting. There have been mentions about velcro straps that were not working and an inspection that may not have not occurred since 2014. It’s all hearsay at this point. There will be an investigation into this child’s death and the safety of this particular ride. American news and Kansas City police both said, Caleb died of a “neck injury”. (ABC, Associated Press, August 9, 2016 abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/latest-boys-death-water-park-prompts-gofundme-page-41207846). Witnesses on the ride, (according to the UK’s Daily Mail) say this child was “decapitated” and that his body fell 50’ before it landed in the pool at the base of the water slide below. (UK Daily Mail, Tuesday, August 9, 2016 www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3730558/Witnesses-day-ten-year-old-boy-DECAPITATED-flew-world-s-tallest-waterslide-fell-safety-net.html) This is very hard for anyone, much less a parent, grand-parent, family member or friend to accept. The agony of losing a beautiful child compounded by the horrific manner of that loss. There are no words–and our hearts go out over and over again to his family.

This terrible event brings it home to the public, to families with young children, to parents and grandparents, caregivers and friends, that perhaps carnival, fair and amusement park rides may not be as safe as people assume they are. Almost immediately following Caleb’s death, there was a bulletin on our local news station about three children who fell from a ferris wheel at a county fair in Greeneville, Tennessee; the youngest child is in serious condition with a possible brain injury (CBS News, August 9, 11:07 a.m., www.cbsnews.com/news/child-serious-condition-ferris-wheel-accident-tennessee/)

For now, public attention is drawn to these terrible tragedies–which should not have taken place–and the families’ grief shared by the public in the aftermath. One can only hope that what has happened will spur the regulatory agencies which promulgate the safety standards for entertainment rides to be more stringent and diligent in their regulation; and for those organizations which inspect these rides to be more alert to regular inspections and safety requirements of the rides, as well as significant attention paid to maintenance by the owners and providers of those rides.

In these tragedies, there are no do-overs. It should be noted that the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) says, “No federal oversight is needed” of an industry with such an excellent safety record, on their website. “Safety is the foundation of our profession and a top priority.” ASTM International writes the guidelines for Amusement Park Safety, and F-24 Amusement Park Standards are set by the ASTM International Committee on Amusement Rides and Devices. The current standards have been adopted by 32 states and some foreign countries; and 44 of 50 states regulate amusement parks.

To family members, parents and grand-parents who enjoy attending carnivals, fairs, and are users of amusement and entertainment park rides, please be vigilant about what rides you consider to be safe for your children. Ask questions, do your homework. If a ride is too old or appears rickety or looks unsafe, it probably is. I don’t care if it’s a see-saw or a merry-go-round! If you, the parent, spends literally years making sure your kids are safely strapped in booster seats properly fixed in your car, then do you want to risk their safety on these kinds of “terrifying” rides? Think about it: You can say, “No!” I am sure Caleb’s parents wish they had the opportunity to do just that.

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