COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State Fair kicks off this week at full capacity for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and ride safety is top of mind since Tyler's Law took effect.
The fair is taking place from July 27 through Aug. 7, but the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has been preparing for years.
Tyler Jarrell would have been a 23-year-old Marine today. Instead, his death in 2017 shocked Ohio State fair-goers. He was thrown from a pendulum-type ride called "Fire Ball" and was pronounced dead on the midway.
"Tyler had always set up his life to be a protector, a shield, a step forward for the positive," said his mom, Amber Duffield. So to get this in his honor was just another way of him saying 'Mom, I've got it. This is what I was meant to do.'"
Duffield has led the charge for the law change since her son died, building relationships with the inspectors and lobbying lawmakers while visiting her son's grave every day.
"Tyler’s Law, which was a bill signed after 2017, really raises the level of safety standards for the amusement ride safety industry here in the state of Ohio," ODA Chief of the Division of Amusement Ride Safety and Fairs David Miran said.
Back in November 2019, Gov. DeWine signed Tyler's Law — legislation to improve the safety and operation of amusement rides for Ohioans.
"With Tyler's Law going into effect, Ohioans will have peace of mind knowing that their favorite amusement rides will be safer than they've ever been," bill sponsor Sen. Louis W. Blessing III, a Republican from Colerain Township, said on Monday. "We will have to remain ever vigilant, as that is the price for ensuring these tragedies never happen again."
Now, Ohio is in line with standards from the American Society for Testing and Materials. Ride owners are required to share information about how rides are stored and used outside of Ohio.
There are also new minimums for the number of inspections and inspectors for each ride type, according to ODA.
This will be the safest fair yet, said Miran.
"It establishes protocols for ride owners to complete fatigue and corrosion reviews and inspections based on the categories of rides," he said.
The legislation modernizes safety inspection standards, laying out a minimum number of inspections per year, depending on the type of ride, and requiring ride owners to keep track of all inspections.
Low-intensity rides are required to be inspected once annually by one inspector and a second time annually during a supplement inspection. These can be conducted at any time throughout the year.
Intermediate intensity rides are inspected twice annually by two inspectors. These rides also undergo one supplemental inspection. Large amusement rides like roller coasters operate under these same requirements.
"Every subsequent inspection that we do here at the department, those two inspectors are required to be there again," Miran said. "Over the last year and a half, our division has really worked diligently with ride owners to make sure that there's been a smooth transition so that ride owners and ride companies understand the requirements of Tyler's Law."
Duffield noted the law impacts more than just the State Fair - it affects inspections at county fairs and any attraction with Department of Agriculture oversight.
"When you go for your ziplining, bounce houses, the zoo rides, it impacts all of that," she said. "This is something that is all-encompassing in what we tried to make as best as possible and as safe as possible."
This is the first year the rules will go into effect for the State Fair because 2020 was canceled and 2021 didn't have large rides.
"In our second year here, we've seen a dramatic decrease in the number of fatigue and corrosion issues, which really means that our ride companies have understood what these new requirements are," Miran said.
The ride company pays for the initial inspection in order to get a permit, but there is no additional cost for the extra inspections, according to ODA Director Dorothy Pelanda.
For Taylor Talley, of Talley Amusements, the biggest cost she has had to face is the diesel to travel from her home base in Texas.
"Since we're a national company, we have our own protocols — with Tyler's Law, nothing's really changing with us because we're already doing that," Talley said. "Safety has always been our No. 1 priority."
The majority of the rides are already inspected, and some of the rides have been inspected multiple times, said Pelanda.
"We believe here we have one of the strongest ride programs in the country," Miran said. "We wish everybody a safe and healthy fair season."
Duffield said she and her family planned to go to opening day of the fair on Wednesday, a family tradition she said must live on.
The fair usually brings in more than 900,000 attendees, according to ODA, but weather depending – the team hopes one million people are able to experience their new safety features.