NEW DETAILS: Victims changed seats just before Ohio State Fair ride tragedy
By Laura A. Bischoff
Aug 31, 2017
Ohio State Fair bystander Brian Bury handed over the data card from his camera to investigators, telling state troopers that he took photos shortly before the Fire Ball ride ripped apart, flinging two teenage riders into the air and raining debris down on the Midway.
An image captured by Bury shows “the back of the orange gondola appears to have what can be construed as a crack running across the area where the gondola detaches,” according to a 62-page investigative report released Thursday by the Ohio Highway Patrol.
Shown the photo, the ride operators employed by Amusements of America, which owns the Fire Ball, said they didn’t notice any cracks.
After reviewing the report, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien declined to pursue criminal charges in the July 26 accident that killed 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell of Columbus and injured several others.
The report details the chaotic, horrific scene on the Midway.
Around 7:24 p.m., Trooper Corey Cottrill, chatting with two other troopers by the ferris wheel, said he just saw someone fall off a ride. All three troopers took off running toward the Fire Ball.
Emergency responders found Jarrell unconscious and without a pulse on the pavement in a truck parking area. They had to move two fifth-wheel dollies to get to him and start CPR. Jarrell and his girlfriend, Keziah Lewis, were ejected from the Fire Ball when the seating gondola ripped away from the ride on opening night of the fair.
Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to free Tamica Dunlap and Russell Franks who were still strapped into the detached gondola.
On the pavement, paramedics treated Jennifer Lambert, Abdi Hussein, Tyler Griffin and Jacob Andrews.
The troopers’ accounts contain gruesome details such as “I observed that one of her feet was separated from her leg” and “his legs were twisted badly and he was bleeding from the back of his head…he appeared to be unconscious.”
Firefighters struggled to save Jarrell, who was lying in a large pool of blood and his legs were badly mangled. A Columbus Fire Department lieutenant called Jarrell’s time of death at 7:30 p.m.
Uniformed troopers secured a perimeter to keep spectators away and started getting witness names. Investigators documented the scene with photos, maps, measurements and diagrams. The patrol’s aviation team took aerial photos.
Bystanders also stepped up. One woman took the shirt off her back to be used to staunch the bleeding on a victim. Three nurses ran to the scene. Nurse Christiane Boulos helped Russell Franks, who was in shock, bleeding and “had no idea what had happened or what was going on,” Boulos told investigators. Nurse Jennifer Dye, who was at the fair to show livestock with her daughter, worked to stabilize Tamica Dunlap’s neck.
A forklift operator moved concrete barriers so emergency workers to get to the injured.
Franks, Dunlap, Lewis and Jarrell sat in seats 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the orange gondola — one of six gondolas attached to the thrill ride. Investigators determined which seats Jarrell and Lewis sat in by watching a SnapChat video of their ride taken by Destiny Hambric, a bystander in line for the Fire Ball.
The ride workers – Cesar Gabriel Alvarez Martinez, Luis Benitez, Duwan Dowdy and Juan Alberto Osorio — ditched the scene of the accident, the report said. Troopers found them at the Amusements of America office on the fairgrounds.
All four cooperated with investigators, though attorneys for Amusements of America sat in on some of the interviews.
Dowdy, who had just joined the crew that day, was on break and riding the ride when the accident happened.
Martinez said he moved the four riders off another gondola and onto the orange one just before the ride because one of the riders was overweight and the safety harness wouldn’t secure. All four passengers wanted to move to the orange one so they could ride together, Martinez told investigators.
The ride, which was manufactured in 1998, will remain in secure storage at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus until it is released to Amusements of America, the midway operator that has provided rides, games and concessions to the state fair for decades.
Amusements of America, a privately-held company started in 1939, has about 100 seasonal workers, half of which are employed under work visas, plus another 50 local temporary workers for the fair.
An autopsy on Jarrell found he suffered compound fractures of both ankles, a fractured femur, internal injuries to his spleen, liver and lungs, and a fracture at the base of his skull.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission inspectors said that “there was a good amount of rust and corrosion inside of the arm carrying to orange gondola that detached,” the report said.
The patrol concluded in its report: “…there is no evidence that has been obtained to indicate the cause of the gondola breaking free was the result of negligence on the part of the individuals operating the ride at the time of the incident.”
Laura Bischoff is our Columbus bureau reporter and covers politics and state government. She keeps a close eye on elected leaders, public employees and taxpayer money. Bischoff tries to write stories that inform voters, hold leaders accountable and strengthen democracy.