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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Kalahari water park a violations leader

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Among violations cited by inspectors from the Ohio Ag Department was a shortage of lifeguards. Among violations cited by inspectors from the Ohio Ag Department was a shortage of lifeguards.
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SANDUSKY - Kalahari Resort, considered the nation's largest indoor water park, has been slipping and sliding its way to less illustrious distinction for safety.

The Ohio agency that oversees amusement parks cited Kalahari for five of the six safety violations it has issued since 2005, the year the water park opened in Huron Township outside Sandusky. Beach Waterpark near Kings Island received the only other citation during this period.

Kalahari's citations vary from too few lifeguards to "careless and unsafe" operation of its Zip Coaster ride. They resulted in the Department of Agriculture's amusement ride safety division assessing a total of $64,500 in fines.

"Kalahari, out of all the water parks, has the most violations here in the state," said Cindy Brown, agriculture department spokesman.

After reaching settlements, the resort company has paid $5,500 so far for its violations. An administrative hearing is pending on a $55,000 fine from a March inspection.

The resort is one of five Sandusky-area water parks, and company officials say it draws a million customers a year. It is one of two Kalahari Resort water parks; the original in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., opened in 2002 and was named for a desert in Africa.

The Sandusky-area resort expanded in December to a national record-setting 173,000 square feet - more than 3 1/2 football fields - of indoor park area, with winding tube slides, a 12,000-square-foot wave pool, and rides for surfing and bodyboarding.

On their March visit, state inspectors discovered that 14 fewer lifeguards were on duty than were required and found that two lifeguards lacked up-to-date certification.

They also observed four children in the wave pool who were too small to be there without flotation vests.

Daylene Stroebe, corporate director of water park operations for Kalahari, said yesterday that the company takes the violation notices seriously and that the Sandusky park last week began an automated program to notify managers when lifeguards' certifications are due to expire.

"We have no desire to be anything but be safe," Ms. Stroebe said.

Rick Root, president of the World Waterpark Association, said all U.S. water parks are extremely safe considering the number of customers.

Nationwide, about 3,500 unintentional drownings occur annually, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mr. Root said that two or three of these drownings occur in water parks.

"With well more than eight million visitors to U.S. water parks, that's a pretty impressive safety record," he said.

Among Kalahari's violations was a 2006 incident in which a 10-year-old girl suffered head trauma on the Zip Coaster when her raft struck an attendant who had wandered onto the track to retrieve a co-worker's visor.

The Columbus Dispatch has reported a complaint filed with the state last summer by a Newark, Ohio, woman who said she broke her back on a Kalahari water slide and said that despite the injury, resort employees tried to lift her into a wheelchair.

Jason Herrera, a director of the Amusement Safety Organization, a nonprofit that studies and reports on the amusement park industry, said, "Of course it's a big park, and there are going to be issues, but what courses of action are they going to take to correct these problems?"

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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