Investigators working to find cause of fatal Ohio State Fair ride accident

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-28 05:24:57-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State Highway Patrol is bringing in out-of-state ride inspectors with expertise in ride malfunctions as the investigation into a fatal accident at the Ohio State Fair Wednesday continues.

They must determine what caused the tragedy: mechanical or human error.

One 18-year-old man was killed and seven other people were injured when part of a ride snapped off while it was in motion, throwing riders through the air. At least two of them were still in critical condition as of Thursday afternoon, according to OSU Medical Center. 


The fair was open Thursday, but the midway with rides remained closed. Gov. John Kasich ordered all the rides shut down pending inspections, and inspectors have been going over all 74 rides againa and again.

While the inspectors continue their work, the accident weighs heavy. Michael Vartorella oversees the state's ride inspectors. The team gave the ride, "Fire Ball," a clean bill of health just hours before it broke apart mid-swing.

"We look at them as they go up. We look at them when they're up," he said. "We make sure they're safe ... When we have a tragedy like this, it hits everybody. It hits really hard."

Ride operators from the company which owns Fire Ball, Amusements of America, had also signed off on the ride Wednesday. The ride twirls 24 people at a time some 40 feet off the ground as it swings back and forth.

Vartorella's team is responsible for inspecting more than 4,000 rides and attractions like Fire Ball across the state. However, he says "there are no guarantees."

"Mechanical or structural damage can be done when you can't see it," Vartorella said. "Metal fatigue sometimes; things not visual."

There is no federal oversight for amusement ride inspections. Ohio law requires state inspections and requires the ride owner to perform and keep track of third-party inspections.

Records show the Fire Ball passed the test last year.

David Daniels, Vartorella's boss and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the state inspectors get continuous training.

"It's important to remember that amusement rides are pieces of equipment," he said. "They can fail from time to time."