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CBS4 Problem Solvers: Inside ride inspections at the Indiana State Fair

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- As investigators continue to look into what caused a deadly ride collapse last month in Ohio, CBS4’s Problem Solvers did some digging and found some concerning information that may have folks thinking twice before they strap on their seat belt.

The Department of Homeland Security did a thorough job of inspecting all 43 Indiana State Fair rides before the event opened in August. Journalists attended and walked around with inspectors, seeing how they go about checking certain rides. Officials found three rides in violation and ordered immediate repair.

Angela Brauer dug through state law and found out that even though there are dozens of fairs, festivals and carnivals throughout Indiana every year, IDHS is only required to inspect rides once a year. IDHS insists they choose to look at the rides more than that, especially for big events such as the state fair.

“We have a lot of people with eyes on these rides throughout the year,” John Erickson said. “We have inspectors that will be in a certain area and they’ll know of a festival or fair going on so they’ll take a couple of minutes to visit.”

Erickson said those inspectors will check on permits, protective fencing and the ride’s exterior safety.

Indiana law may require a minimum check of once a year, but it used to be even less than that. In the 1990s, the state implemented “Emily’s Law” after a little girl was paralyzed from the chest down and her grandmother killed on an amusement-type ride. An investigation showed the train ride had derailed 79 times prior to Emily’s accident. Representatives passed Emily’s Law to regulate such rides.

Other states aren’t as strict, either; several leave it up to their county government agencies to regulate. Six states including Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah do not regulate amusement park rides at all, meaning there is no oversight when it comes to safety checks and inspections.

Reporter Angela Brauer also asked about how old amusement park rides can get before they “retire.” Homeland Security said there is no regulation about that.

“It’s not necessarily the age of a ride, it’s the workmanship,” Erickson argued. “It’s like a vehicle. If you’re willing to put extra maintenance into them and make sure they’re up to code and operating how they’re supposed to…”

Documents show the Fireball, which collapsed at the Ohio State Fair in July, was 18 years old. Inspectors blamed the collapse on excessive corrosion along the ride’s beam wall.

We asked North American Midway Entertainment, the ride vendor at this year’s Indiana State Fair, how old their oldest ride is. A spokesperson said their “Wave Swinger,” which is not at the state fair but within their fleet, is 38 years old.

The spokesperson added, though, that the company performs what they call “non-destructive testing,” in which they x-ray rides and do a comprehensive test for excessive wear and tear. North American Midway Entertainment believes they are the only company that performs such tests, saying it is expensive but ensures safety.

North American Midway Entertainment’s season goes from March until November each year. The rides run often, so the company could not confirm how many times a year a typical attraction is used. They said after the season is over, the rides go into a warehouse for that aforementioned testing, updates, painting and routine maintenance.

This year’s state fair ends Aug. 20.

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