TALLAHASSEE — It was a parent’s nightmare.
When Jennifer Bonney took her son, 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, and two of Lauren’s friends to the North Florida Fair in Tallahassee on Saturday, she, like many, assumed it was safe to hop on each of the rides.
Yet, as she rode the fair’s "Music Express" with her son — about five cars back from Lauren and her friends — she watched in horror as her daughter was thrown from the car, eventually coming to a stop on the metal walkway surrounding the ride.
The ride spins its passengers on a circular loop, not into the air but on the ground like a much-faster carousel. Bonney said Lauren, a high school freshman, told her after the accident that “her feet started to slip out of the car, and she just couldn’t hold on.”
She could see Lauren the whole ride, so Bonney knew for certain there was no horseplay or ignoring of the ride's rules that could have caused her to be thrown from the car.
Bonney recalled screaming to get the ride operators’ attention, but the music was too loud. Lauren’s friends did the same, with the same result. The North Florida Fair contracts with entertainment company Strates Shows Inc. to hire its ride operators.
“When the ride finally did stop, I jumped out," Bonney said. "Lauren was unconscious and not moving. It was very terrifying. There was blood everywhere.”
Lauren was taken to a local hospital and found to have a broken nose and about a 5-inch cut across her forehead but no other broken bones. Bonney said other tests were done to rule out further injury.
Mark Harvey, the manager of the North Florida Fairgrounds, said the Music Express ride was shut down for the remainder of Saturday but reopened Sunday morning after passing an inspection from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services ride inspection unit.
“They determined there was no malfunction on the part of the machine,” Harvey said. “What I mean by that is, the lap restraints were working properly, and the velocity of the ride was within the parameters of manufacturer recommendations.”
Harvey described the lap restraint as “a metal bar that goes across your lap and holds you down."
He said he had never been on that particular ride.
“All I can speak to is the 10 years that I have been the manager of the fairgrounds. That ride has been here, and this is the first and only incident that we have ever had with it,” Harvey said.
Bonney said the lap restraint isn’t nearly adequate to ensure riders’ safety.
“There’s no individual seat belt, just one metal bar that’s in a set place,” Bonney said. “So it doesn’t matter if you’re big, tall, small or short, the bar is in the same place for every car.”
David Northway, spokesman for the Tallahassee Police Department, said an investigation is underway to determine whether there will be any charges related to the case.
Before police arrived, Bonney said she was disheartened by the lack of reaction from the people who witnessed the incident.
“We had a lot of people staring at us and taking video, taking pictures with their phones — but no one was really helping us. That was a disappointing moment,” Bonney said. “There were several minutes that I felt very alone.”