No state regulations exist to oversee the Land of Illusion Aqua Adventures Park in Madison Township, because the recreation area is located on a pond and not another type of water area, an investigation by the Journal-News found.
That’s despite state and local agencies regulating nearly every other type of water recreation area in Ohio, from splash pads to municipal swimming pools to beaches.
Aqua Adventures has been scrutinized, even criticized, by the public after 14-year-old Mykiara Jones apparently drowned there July 20 while swimming without a life jacket. Her body was found in the murky water 30 minutes after she was last seen that evening.
Jones, an incoming freshman at Middletown High School, was flown by CareFlight to Dayton Children’s Hospital, where she died. The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office hasn’t released a cause or manner of death, and it may take several weeks before results are known, according to an official.
Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in children ages 1 to 4 in Ohio and the second-leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in children ages 5 to 14, according to state records.
Jones, an honor roll student who wanted to be a neurosurgeon, was buried on Tuesday.
Rep. Thomas Hall, R-Madison Twp., said he lives four miles from Land of Illusion and wants to create legislation to correct the “loophole” that allows the water park to operate without state regulations.
“We need to do whatever we can to keep this from happening again,” Hall said. “This is extremely personal to me.”
Hall said he plans to meet with Butler County General Health District officials and state legislators to discuss possible solutions. He called changing the way ponds are governed “a pretty easy fix.”
While the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Department of Ohio and the Butler County General Health District said they don’t handle inspections at the Land of Illusion water park because it’s a pond, the county health department received an anonymous complaint five hours before Jones’ death.
A person called the health department at 11:14 a.m. on July 20 and said she was at the park on July 17 and it was “over capacity” with about 600 people and no adult supervision.
“Kids were pushing other kids around,” the complaint read. “No one was trying to control the crowd. Felt it was unsafe and dangerous for people that were there.”
The following day, two representatives from the county health department met with Land of Illusion officials and made several recommendations based on swimming pool regulations. Because the health department has no authority over the water park, it made “suggestions only,” according to the document obtained by The Journal-News.
The health department officials said lifeguards should be able to scan their area and respond within 20 seconds. After hearing the suggestion, Land of Illusion may hire more lifeguards, according to the document.
It was also suggested that Land of Illusion post signs informing patrons they must wear life jackets when in the water.
ODA does not inspect or license any inflatable devices on the lake at Land of Illusion, nor at any other entities in Ohio where inflatable devices are located on a lake, said Katie Boyer, public information officer. She said these and similar devices are exempt from licensure under the Ohio Revised Code.
She said there are other amusement installations at the Land of Illusion that are required to be inspected by ODA. Land of Illusion requested inspections recently to license three other devices (a bungee, rock wall and inflatable slide) that are operated on the grounds, she said.
Upon inspection, the facility did not have the required documentation to complete the inspections and receive licenses and, therefore, ODA advised that these devices could not operate, Boyer said. ODA is awaiting complete documentation from the company. Once the documentation is secured, ODA will inspect these devices, and permission to operate may be granted, according to Boyer.
The ODH licenses public swimming pools, spas and special use pools, which are regulated under the authority of the Ohio Revised Code, said Alicia Shoults, a spokeswoman for the department.
She said the concession stand at Land of Illusion would be licensed by the local health department.
Since Jones’ death 12 days ago, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones said his office has been “inundated with complaints” about the Aqua Adventures Park. Ryan Perry, manager of the water park, said the park not only meets all applicable regulations but goes “above and beyond because of our commitment to safety.”
Jones said the complaints allege the park does not have certified lifeguards, life vest rules are not enforced and no rescue equipment is readily available, among others.
Land of Illusion posted on its Facebook page two days after the fatal incident that the water park “is committed to providing a safe and fun recreation destination for our region. We prioritize guest safety and training for our team and diligently comply with all Ohio regulations governing the activities and offerings available at our Aqua Adventure Park.”
The statement said the water park was looking forward to “supporting and collaborating” with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and other state and local officials as they continue their investigations.
Jones said the investigation may extend beyond his office and he plans on contacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for assistance.
Jones told this news outlet that it will be “a big investigation” that has no timetable.
“Our job is to get to the bottom of this,” he said.