COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For the first time in nearly a year since the fatal Fireball accident at the 2017 Ohio State Fair, we’re hearing from Ohio’s Chief Ride Inspector and the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).
Since the tragedy at last year’s state fair, the ODA has denied every single one of our on-camera interview requests. Tyler Jarrell, 18, was killed and seven others were seriously hurt in the accident.
NBC4 has been “Inspecting the Inspectors” since the night of the accident. Some of our findings have been used to shape Tyler’s Law which would strengthen ride rules in Ohio.
Amusements of America, who is back as the ride provider at the Ohio State Fair for the 26th year, says you will not find the Fireball ride at this year’s fair. In fact, you won’t find any KMG rides on the midway.
The company says it has cut ties with the manufacturer all together and launched an investigation of its own after learning KMG may have known corrosion was a potential issue with the Fireball ride, an issue the company says it was never told about.
“Owners of the ride, Amusements of America, was not notified that there were any potential issues that there was any indication that anything like this could happen,” said Amusements of America’s Jill Walls.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels said his eight inspectors also noted no signs of cracks or corrosion with the Fireball during inspections last year.
“This was simply a case of metal fatigue we could not see and it was a tragedy,” said Daniels. “A tragedy occurred and we feel bad about it.”
We asked Chief Ride Inspector Mike Vartorella if there’s the potential for more hidden dangers this year.
“With the comprehensive testing that the manufacturers are recommending now we don’t think it’s going to be a problem. We’re told what to look for, how to look for it,” he said.
Vartorella maintains Ohio’s ride inspection program and its inspectors are some of the best.
“You can talk to any of these companies that come in here and say if we can pass Ohio we can pass anywhere so these guys are the best and I put my full faith in them 100%,” said Vartorella.
Keziah Lewis, whose boyfriend Jarrell was killed when the ride broke apart in the air, now has to use a wheelchair after breaking her back, neck and pelvis when she was thrown from the ride.
“I was happy. I had so many opportunities. I had the road ahead of me… we both did, me and Tyler,” she said.
Jarrell’s mother, Amber Duffield, said more has to be done to protect riders.
“Something precious was taken and it was more than Tyler it was more than Keziah and the others, it was the trust,” said Duffield.
The question remains if that trust has been restored.
“I’m going to be on some of them and so are my grand kids so yes, I think they’re safe,” said Daniels.