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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

A risky ride

AN 8-year-old Ohio boy's first trip to the Lake County Fair turned out to be his last.

The child was electrocuted as he bounded up the ramp to a bumper-car ride. It happened in 2003, an accident waiting to happen on a shoddy carnival attraction.

Many - except those in a position to make it happen - agree tougher state inspections might have prevented the tragedy that killed Greyson Yoe. But the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for inspecting rides at carnivals and amusement parks across the state, decided to pass the buck for safeguarding the public.

Just two weeks after the boy's death, the state decided to weaken rather than strengthen state regulations on ride safety. It reduced the number of items for state inspectors to check and passed responsibility for inspecting electrical systems on rides back to their owners.

Lake County Prosecutor Chuck Coulson argued that electrical issues are what killed Greyson Yoe. Experts said failure to connect a ground wire proved fatal when the child grasped the metal rails of the ride and was jolted by an electrical charge. He died 20 days later.

A master electrician who was one of the key experts in the case submitted hundreds of photographs showing scores of safety hazards on the ride, from bare wires and loose cables to tin foil covering electrical fuses, problems that would have been caught even by an untrained eye.

With proper training, said Ralph Dolence, a national consultant for the FBI, among others, incidents like the Lake County death could be averted. But a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture said its inspectors don't do electrical inspections - even though old state inspection forms indicated they did. "It's beyond the state's scope to guarantee the ride is grounded," said Mark Anthony.

Hogwash, say the experts. It's not cost prohibitive to train ride inspectors to check voltage as an added safety precaution. A voltage meter can be bought for less than $20.

Besides, adds Virginia consultant Ken Martin, a state ride inspector for 15 years, "electrical inspections and checking grounding are critical to ride safety. Why Ohio isn't going to do it any longer is baffling."

Prosecutor Coulson speculates the state is more interested in protecting itself from lawsuits than protecting the public from unsafe rides. The state counters that requiring ride owners to do electrical inspections will have a positive impact on ride safety.

But who will inspect the owners? And isn't expecting them to do a thorough examination of their electrical systems a little like the fox guarding the hen house?

The death of Greyson Yoe should have been impetus enough for improving state ride inspections. The prosecutor, who won convictions against five defendants in the case, including the ride owner and a state inspector, said the loss is exacerbated by the new lax state rules.

How many more tragedies will it take before Ohio leaders take reasonable precautions with ride inspections? Those who wait anxiously in line at amusement parks, county fairs, and regional carnivals around the state shouldn't have to do so at their own risk.



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