Almost a year after an incident sent riders crashing to the ground when the Yo-Yo ride collapsed at the Calaveras County Fair, the carnival operator is suing the state of California over its response to the incident.
The Enterprise learned of the lawsuit in a phone conversation with representatives of the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health Amusement Ride Unit about specifics in the unit’s report on the ride collapse issued March 13 of this year.
Questions concerning conclusions made in the report were asked because some of them did not appear to match the body of the report, which laid blame for the May 16, 2008, Yo-Yo collapse on the failure of a locking mechanism for the ride’s lift arms. Other conclusions suggest the carnival operator, Harry Mason, owner of Mid-way of Fun, doing business as Brass Ring Amusements, kept poor records on employee training and the ride’s operation and maintenance.
Mason told the Enterprise he questions why the conclusions in the 91-page document don’t match with the narrative of the report. He specifically wonders why the report suggests the ride was not certified safe by OSHA officials when – earlier in the document – a timeline of inspections and certifications is noted.
“I don’t know why the report looks like it does,” Mason told the Enterprise in an exclusive. “There are a lot of inconsistencies.”
The Yo-Yo ride features 32 seats, each suspended by four chains attached to “T” bars that are affixed to 16 lifting arms. As the ride begins, the central hub spins to about 10 mph and the arms raise riders into the air. Last year, the central hub of the ride at the county fair gave way, sending all the seats crashing to the ground. All reports from local agencies indicated there were 23 injured on the ride, but the state report said there were 21 riders aboard when the collapse occurred.
“The sweeps (of the ride) ‘collapsed’ because the spider bearing assembly slipped off the cylinder rod, thus losing the power to pull down the sweep’s top ends,” the report states. “This happened because of the two lock nuts that were holding down the spider bearing assembly rotated off and disengaged from the threaded end of the cylinder rod.”
In October of last year, Chance Rides Manufacturing of Wichita, Kan., and the Consumer Products Safety Com-mission issued a voluntary recall of about 85 Yo-Yo rides operating around the country. One of the parts singled out in the recall requiring diligent inspection was the same part that was eventually sent to a specialized lab for testing after the Calaveras collapse.
“The lock nuts loosened and rotated off because of the failure of a lock washer designed to hold the lock nuts in place and keep them from rotating,” the report continues. The washers were tabbed to interlock and the report concluded, “The lock washer failed because the inner tab fractured and broke off of it.”
Prior to the recall, Chance had required ride operators to have the central hub assembly sent in for inspection and maintenance every five years. When the recall was announced, operators were alerted and received new washers for the assembly.
But in the conclusions of the OSHA report, the document says Mason failed to have the ride inspected before operating it in Calaveras.
“Had Midway of Fun’s maintenance program been sufficient, the Yo-Yo would have been inspected and maintained to conform to all of Chance’s specifications,” the report said.
The report states the ride was inspected by Phil Lindquist, an associate engineer with the amusement ride unit, in May 2005, when North American Amusements owned the attraction. The inspection sheet lists the serial number for the ride and says there was a new cylinder on the ride with an “expiration date of March 18, 2010.”
In August of that same year, the ride was re-inspected and given an annual permit. In October 2006, Lindquist again inspected the Yo-Yo and issued a temporary operating permit listing four items that required correction; none of those applied to the hydraulic cylinder. Those four items were not re-inspected because the “Yo-Yo was repossessed by an entity with a financial claim to the attraction,” the report said. “The temporary permit subsequently expired.”
In April 2007, Midway of Fun was issued a temporary permit for the ride that said a hydraulic hose at the cylinder head needed replacement. Ma-son said the hose was weathered and subsequently replaced.
On May 31, 2007, Michael King, another associate engineer, conducted a follow-up inspection and issued an annual permit. “King’s field sheet indicates that, according to information placed in the file by (associate engineer) Lindquist in 2005, the cylinder had been rebuilt,” the report narrative states.
The file indicates Lindquist inspected the ride in question 10 times from 2002 through 2008, “three of those inspections occurred after the Yo-Yo’s hydraulic cylinder expiration date of April 9, 2007, including an inspection leading to the issuance of an annual permit to the Yo-Yo in April 2008, just days before the accident (on the ride) of May 16, 2008.”
“I cannot stress enough,” Mason said, “the ride was properly registered and permitted. I went to the state and pulled documents (the inspection and maintenance history of the ride) when I bought it.
“To infer or imply that I took some piece of equipment off the side of the road and put it in my carnival is ridiculous,” Mason railed.
When asked what he believes caused the collapse, Mason said, “The locking washer failed. I knew it had happened when we opened it up at the time.”
Mason said he called the Enterprise because he felt television stations had rushed to judgment and read only the conclusions in the state report. He also wanted to thank the directors of the 39th District Agricultural Association – which operates the fair – for their vote of confidence in selecting Midway of Fun as the carnival operator for the fair this year.
“People need to know that we take safety very seriously – we always have,” he added.
Michael Amaro, Mason’s attorney with Prindle, Decker and Amaro in Southern California, a firm that specializes in the amusement industry, said the lawsuit was filed in late February or early March of this year. He said Mason “lost a large amount of income” when all of the rides at the fair were shuttered after the Yo-Yo collapse.
When the incident happened, Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum said he did order the rides closed, but adamantly stressed that he told OSHA investigators, once they arrived at the fairgrounds, that the reopening of the rides was up to them.
When asked about the Yo-Yo ride’s inspection record, Nancy Medeiros, senior engineer for the Amusement Ride Section, said “bulletins” were not followed. She explained that the bulletins are typically sent from ride manufacturers to operators discussing maintenance issues and other operational criteria that may have been changed for each different ride. She said the bulletins are issued throughout the year, “then the operators have to follow up.”
When asked where the bulletins were mentioned in the incident report, Dean Fryer, deputy director of communications for the Department of Industrial Relations, interrupted the conversation and asked Medeiros if there was mention of the bulletins anywhere in the file.
“No,” Medeiros said.
“Then we have no hard and fast answer if they’re not there,” Fryer said.
Mason’s lawsuit, Amaro said, questions under what authority OSHA representatives kept the entire carnival at last year’s fair closed. He said that as OSHA issues its operating permits for temporary rides in the state, it is obligated to notify operators when a ride is closed and to give the operator written reason for the closure. He said the state acted “capriciously” in closing down the entire carnival and the lawsuit seeks unspecified financial compensation.
“Nancy (Medeiros) does what she wants to,” Amaro said.
He would not go so far as to say that the entire Amusement Ride Unit needed an overhaul, but he said there is now an adversarial relationship between carnival operators and OSHA representatives that has not existed before now.
“There should be a partnership between the state and ride operators and the state right now doesn’t see it that way.”
Amaro said he didn’t expect the suit to come to trial until the spring of 2010.
Since the incident in Calaveras County, Mason has created a safety position in his company; that person’s full-time job is training ride operators and focusing on safety for all patrons and employees, though he said that training was al-ways provided.
Mason told the fair board in February that during the 2009 Frog Jump he will hire a third-party inspector – Ray Rieger, who is a former OSHA inspector now operating Ray Rieger Loss Control Services out of Gardnerville, Nev., and Topaz – who will oversee all of the ride installations at the fair and will conduct inspections throughout the event next week.
“In the safety side of this business, he’s revered,” Mason told the fair board.
“We will be the most scrutinized carnival this side of the Rockies,” Mason said. “I want people to know that we take safety very seriously, we always have. I want people to feel comfortable that I operate and maintain all my attractions with safety in mind.”
“This (the May 2008 accident) was an anomaly. My heart totally goes out to those people who were on the ride.
“I hope that folks come out and enjoy the fair,” he added. “This may sound like too much, but the Calaveras fair is the only fair I attend all year where I eat a corndog. It is what county fairs are supposed to be. You see people running into friends all weekend.”