Zamperla cleared in 2004 Pigeon Forge civil suit

Posted Wednesday, September 1, 2010 12:34 PM | Contributed by Jeff

Zamperla is not liable for the death of a rider on one of its attractions at Rockin' Raceway in Pigeon Forge, in light of the conviction of an engineer who disabled the safety system, the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville ruled.

Read more from Courthouse News Service and Leagle.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 1:00 PM

Scary as that accident was, this is totally the right outcome. I can't believe that you would actually bypass that safety system. In what world would that ever be OK?

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 1:06 PM

And in no way could Zamperla know that the person they sold it to WOULD bypass the safety system. That guy is an idiot.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 1:30 PM

Wow. This certainly doesn't help the case against federal oversight.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 4:03 PM

Why not? The outcome of this case doesn't lean either direction. At the end of the day, unless someone is standing over every ride operator 24/7, things like this will happen. The good news is that the owner was tried and convicted of a criminal offense.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 10:30 PM

What expectation is there for Zamperla to prevent this kind of accident? That a manufacturer should make products impossible for a purchaser to alter? How realistic is that? It's sad that this happened, but the manufacturer can't be blamed. To me, that's akin to blaming the manufacturer of the smoke detector for a fatal fire when there were no batteries in it. It's not that the product was faulty, it's that it wasn't being operated in the proper way.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 10:42 PM

I know there's no reasonable or rational reason that could exist for this guy to bypass the safety feature in the harnesses, but do we know what reason he gave? I'm curious if he had a reason in his head.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 11:18 PM

From the brief googling I did earlier today, he didn't really give a reason, because he denied doing it or knowing who did.

This article says:

The company “manufactured a ride that was junk,” [the defense attorney] said, adding that Zamperla representatives made some slapdash repairs to the ride when it premiered at two industry trade shows in 1998.

Earlier complaint of harness opening
Prosecutors said amusement park officials stopped calling the manufacturer after the ride’s warranty ran out — even after an Indiana man complained in July 2003 that his seat harness opened and he was nearly thrown.

Also from this article:

Schmutzer asked Martin why he did not call Zamperla, the ride's manufacturers, for assistance after a similar accident in 2003 in which a rider clung to the ride for his life after his harness came loose.

The defendant would not concede that he did not call Zamperla because the warranty ran out in 1999.

"It was a serious issue but I did not call them," the defendant testified. "Our own tests did not indicate any malfunctioning devices on the ride. It convinced me the ride was perfectly safe."

"You didn't feel like it was necessary to call Zamperla until somebody fell to their death," Schmutzer posited.

Martin and others have testified the defendant was attending his father's funeral in West Tennessee when the first incident occurred.

After he returned, Martin testified, he and his stepson, who was an assistant manager at Rockin' Raceway, checked all the safety devices and determined an anomaly had occurred as a result of the man's large build. Alexander also had a large frame.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 11:24 PM

I still haven't ridden Aero360 because of this accident and the lack of a secondary latch on that ride. Shame, it looks like fun too.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010 1:58 AM

I've been on Kennywood's. I believe the restraint is one of those double hydraulic deals that is not likely to fail ever (kpjb or Rideman could probably say for sure). Does the one at Dorney have belts as a backup?

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Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:41 AM

Thanks, Bryan. That makes sense.

I have ridden Aero 360 many times and it never escapes my mind that my full body weight rests on the harnesses when it suspends briefly up top. But honestly, I've never ridden a ride (that I'm aware of) where a secondary latch became necessary because of a harness failure. If that happened a lot to me, I would probably make sure that what I ride has one. But for the most part, I trust the systems in place.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010 12:33 PM

Yeah, I believe its been said before about the double hydraulics and how they can't fail but my own mind would still prefer a buckle on that harness.

Funny how coasters without a buckle don't bother me. Then again, they don't stop for several seconds pinning me upside down against the harness. :)

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 9:05 AM

Jeff said:
I've been on Kennywood's. I believe the restraint is one of those double hydraulic deals that is not likely to fail ever (kpjb or Rideman could probably say for sure). Does the one at Dorney have belts as a backup?

Yeah, ours has the double hydraulic cylinders, as well as a locking pin on each seat that has to be in place for the ride to start.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 11:25 AM

I didn't know about the locking pin. Thanks for that.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 12:38 PM

That's what the "click" is when you're loading/unloading.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010 11:42 PM

I was wondering about that. I hadn't chimed in yet because I couldn't remember how the ride was put together. I was at Kennywood on Sunday and made a point of hanging out at the Aero 360 exit for a couple of cycles. One of the things I noticed was that while there are six seats on each of the passenger carriers, there are twelve LEDs that indicate "ready to go" status. I remember hearing the "clunk" and wondering what it was. I wondered if it was anything like the weird latching rod on a Chaos.

The Hawk shoulder bar does NOT have the locking pins that engage on the front of the bar, as on the Roto-Shake. But I presume the latch on the Hawk is similar to the setup on the Power Surge.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:19 AM

So that makes me ask, did the Pigeon Forge Hawk not have the locking pins, or did the tampering allow the leds to be lit, falsely, under a no-go situation? I trust my safety to Kennywood but some of these other less mainstream places, I don't know.

I really am fascinated in how all these things work, my favorite part of this hobby.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:42 PM

I'm sure it's just a matter of switches being bypassed. A radio engineer friend of mine told me how one of his mentors routinely bypassed the interlocks on the transmitter doors so he could poke around inside with the transmitter on. Normally, the transmitter would not operate with the door open. Keep in mind that we're talking about lethal amounts of electricity inside. It's one thing to put yourself at risk, I suppose, but quite another to put tens of thousands of customers at risk.

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Friday, September 10, 2010 5:58 PM

Typically the way a safety system on a ride works is that there is a series-connected loop that starts at the power bus, goes through all of the locking switches and returns to the RESTRAINTS LOCKED pin on the controller. The switches may be double-pole and wired with one side in parallel with indicators so that the operators can tell which restraint isn't locked (or whatever) but the part that counts is usually just one gigantic loop. ANY open switch within that loop will prevent the ride from starting.

One jumper wire run from the power bus to the signal pin on the controller is enough to effectively bypass the entire safety system. Even worse, if that is done, all the indicators will continue to function. So the only way you can tell that the system isn't working is when it allows the ride to start when one of the switches is indicating !LOCKED.

Of course, the original problem was that one of the switches was apparently indicating an unlock condition when the restraint was in fact locked, and that false reading was a nuisance. So instead of fixing the problem, the problem was bypassed.

I've worked on equipment with interlocks disabled. In fact, I have worked on equipment where the only way to diagnose it was to disable an interlock so that I could see it (fail to) operate. But Jeff is right. If you are performing maintenance and you can safely work with the interlock disabled, you are putting yourself at risk...but in theory you are replacing the designed-in safety system with another one that will keep you safe.

Putting ANY customer at risk, especially doing so without their knowledge, is a completely different story.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Sunday, September 12, 2010 2:40 PM

If Martin thought that Zamperla manufactured a ride that was junk, and he saw for himself that company reps had to make slapdash repairs to it at two separate trade shows, why buy it in the first place?

This guy is an expert at the blame game. The manufacturer makes junk. I'm a victim of their misrepresentations. The people who had their restraints open were big framed. Other employees might have changed the wiring while I wasn't there. Even though somebody died, this is the worst slap in the face "I" ever received. Ridiculous. Rediculous even.

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