Ride operator in Dells tower accident charged with first-degree reckless injury

Posted Wednesday, August 18, 2010 12:28 PM | Contributed by Jeff

A 33-year-old Lake Delton man has been charged with first-degree reckless injury in connection with a July 30 incident in which a 12-year-old Florida girl was injured in an amusement park ride.

Read more from The Journal Sentinel.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 2:32 PM

It's interesting to read the comments on this article. It seems like the vast majority are against charges being filed against the operator. I'm curious as to what the enthusiast community here thinks.

Personally, having worked in operations, I do think charges are appropriate. The operator failed to follow procedure and as a result the girl was injured.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 2:38 PM

I don't want to come off as an apologist or anything but I'm not sure how I feel about this. Was there negligence involved? Yes. But, I'm not sure that trumps the negligence of the ride manufacturer and the park to make sure an incident like this wouldn't happen.

I was on the periphary of a ride accident that should not have happened. It resulted from the "negligence" of ride operators but they were dealing with a series of events that left them in a no win position. The situation happened with a manually operated rollercoaster (breaks were operated by "hand" as was done many years ago). No deaths or life threatening injuries occurred but we were fortunate.

In that case there were safety systems in place that could have prevented the incident. The park just chose not to purchase and install them, largely because of the financial ramifications. So, while the ride operators did miss steps that COULD have prevented the accident, the park missed an opportunity that WOULD have prevented it.

Unless I'm missing something with this particular attraction it sounds to me that it relies too heavily on the operator and while I'm no engineer it seems to me there could be ways to avoid this. For that reason I believe these attractions should be shut down worldwide until the manufacturer improves the system. If it can't be done then I think the attraction doesn't belong in the amusement park setting.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 2:42 PM

The only thing I'm seeing is that the fence was placed poorly. Is there really something deeper than that?

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 2:54 PM

Not sure what you are asking about Jeff. If the operator is only relying on his observance of the net being "up" in receiving position or not...I think that is a problem. I don't know enough about the attraction. But, I would suspect it wouldn't be too hard to have a red light and a green light at the top platform that would indicate when the net was in the proper position to release the participant.

Maybe that exists...but when I first read about this incident I never heard that addressed.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 2:59 PM

I don't have a problem with the operator being charged. If there are mitigating circumstances, that could well lead to a verdict of not guilty. But, if the reports we've heard so far have been accurate---dropping her 40' early---I'm having a hard time imagining what those mitigating circumstances could be. As I understand this, the trap door should not even be opened until you reach the proper height.

Edited to add: I suppose if you could demonstrate that a typical human can't distinguish between 100' and 140', maybe. We'll see what happens in trial.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Wednesday, August 18, 2010 3:00 PM
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 3:05 PM

@Wahoo, even though our crew that night fall under the "operator error" category for the accident, at least we will be remembered as the ones smart enough to hit the lift stop unlike the previous year. I can't believe this was exactly 20 years ago now; I can still vividly remember the chaos of that night, the explosion of the trains hitting and the ensuing madness afterwards....definitely not a "funtime" in my park career.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 3:20 PM

Well, I didn't want to go into too much detail mlnem but the fact that almost the identical accident happened on the same coaster previously implicates the park further...and in my mind is reason enough for the crew to not feel guilt about it.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 4:06 PM

A lot of the story comments seem to feel that the degree of guilt is somehow proportional to the amount of money each party has-- therefore, the operator who makes somewhere around minimum wage must be less guilty than the park owner who makes lots of money. Ridiculous, or even rediculous!

How could the guy not notice that the lift was stopped 40 feet below where it normally would go for people to be released? It's not like he stopped it at 139 feet 8 inches instead of the required 140 feet. I'm not saying there shouldn't be action taken against either the park or the manufacturer-- I'm thinking more the manufacturer for what seems to be some design flaws. But I don't think we can say that this guy was "only" an operator and his actions didn't contribute in anyway to the accident.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 4:15 PM

Fail. I posted a comment in the wrong thread.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 9:50 PM

I'm not sure that it is a good idea to bring charges in an incident like this, unless there is some evidence that there was willful misconduct on the part of the operator. We don't know much about the controls on that "ride" and I don't think we've got a lot of information on exactly what the operator did wrong. Did he have his hand in the wrong place? Was it a design fault? Exactly what happened to cause this incident.

The big problem here is the chilling effect that this can have. Think about it. Think about it long and hard. Would you take a job as a ride operator if you knew that if someone gets hurt on your ride, you can be brought up on felony charges? Does the reward for doing the job justify that kind of risk?

The unfortunate fact is that bad things happen. Things go wrong, and they tend to go very wrong very quickly. When the wrong things go wrong, people get hurt. The operator already has to deal with that. We don't know why the release happened. The charges imply that it wasn't a mechanical malfunction. But is it safe to assume that the operator was working in an irresponsible manner?

And maybe there is a good reason to believe that this charge is justified and I'm overreacting to this. But it does seem kind of suspicious, and based on what little I know now, I really don't like the ramifications for every ride operator in the State of Wisconsin.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:25 PM

For reference, here's the section of the Wisconsin code that defines reckless injury:

http://www.legis.state.wi.us/statutes/Stat0940.pdf

Just reading it, (and not being a lawyer), it seems to me that establishing first-degree reckless injury (vs. "regular" reckless injury) sounds like a tall order, unless there are details that we don't know yet.

Last edited by Brian Noble, Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:26 PM
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:29 PM

I agree, Dave. It does set an ugly precedent, and I feel like the charges are being made mostly because "someone has to be punished." I'm not trivializing the severity of what happened, but this doesn't sound like the right reaction.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:59 PM

My thought exactly. It was refreshing to see that at least the first 48 comments on the news story carried much the same flavor. Refreshing because newspaper comment sections are generally...well...you know...not exactly well-reasoned and insightful. In fact one of the early commenters put it succinctly: two wrongs don't make it right, and this indictment appears to be wrong.

Anyway, absent (as Brian suggests) some details that we don't know yet, this sounds like the Austin Livestock Show and Rodeo incident all over again. THAT was UGLY.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:01 PM

Excellent points Dave. The girl is from down here and the family seems to be taking comfort that the employee has been charged. I'm just not convinced yet that this is real justice for anyone. Maybe I'll be proved wrong in a trial.

And, maybe I'm a bit biased. I just think this is a bad attraction. A freefall into a net? Not only would I have never gone on it but I wouldn't even be inclined to stop and watch it.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:16 PM

It's safe to say the investigators have more information at their disposal than the handful of articles we have here. Maybe there is some over exuberance to press some kind of charges because of the severity of the girl's injuries, but I don't think this sets some kind of precedence for everyone who operates a ride.

If it can be shown in any accident that all procedures were properly followed, an operator won't be found responsible for something like rider error, mechanical failure, or a design flaw. Describing what happened here as "willful" and "showing disregard for human life" seems very strong as opposed to negligent. But the huge gap between where the net and cage were as opposed to where they were supposed to be does indicate some fault on the operator's part.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010 11:18 PM

I'm not sure this has any relevance to this situation or not. But, this conversation just reminded me of something I remember from Mt. Olympus/Big Chiefs Carts & Coasters. I don't remember if you actually signed something. Or perhaps liability is assumed by virtue of the fact that you bought a ticket. But, when your on the go carts they explicitly tell you that any accidents on the course caused by you are your responsibility. In other words, if you rear end someone and give them whiplash, it's your fault not the park.

Is this typical of other parks or is this a Wisconsin thing?

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Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:26 AM

I think it's on the fine print of most any ticket or pass, and pretty much never considered and enforceable contract.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:45 AM

When I visited Big Chief's (which should tell you how long ago that was), they had signs up indicating, "NO INSURANCE." They also had itty bitty signs on the ride controls indicating that they were licensed by the State. The Wisconsin Administrative Code includes an insurance requirement as part of the amusement ride licensing rules.

Draw your own conclusion. 8-)

I'm guessing that most of their customers don't even know what the Wisconsin Administrative Code is, let alone what's in it, hence the sign.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:48 AM

Reminds me of a park that asks you to sign fake waivers and segregates hotel rooms between celibate and sexually active people. You know the one I mean!

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