Are theme parks safe? 11 freak accidents that occurred at Georgia amusement parks, fairs

A ride malfunction at the Ohio State Fair killed one and injured seven others Wednesday, raising concerns about theme park dangers.

» RELATED: Ohio State Fair ride accident: 18-year-old killed, 7 injured identified

According to the Associated Press, the swinging and spinning Fire Ball ride malfunctioned, throwing people from the ride.

As of Thursday morning, two of the injured victims remained in critical condition, Battalion Chief Steve Martin said.

The Ohio accident is one of several theme park accidents heard around the world in recent years — from a 25-foot plunge ride in Delaware that left a 14-year-old dangling to a California woman’s burst artery in the skull after being struck by a pipe while riding a water slide.

And Georgia’s had its fair share.

» RELATED: How safe are carnival rides?

Here are 11 freak accidents and incidents at Georgia theme parks or fairs, many of which have led to fatalities or injuries:

Officials of Six Flags Over Georgia watch as minor problems are corrected and a load of park patrons rise toward the top of the ride on June 20, 1984.
Photo: DWIGHT ROSS / 1984

1. In 1984, according to the New York Times, a computer malfunction on Six Flags Over Georgia’s Great Air Racer caused the ride’s cables to “drop the planes out of position.” Thirty-four passengers were injured as a result.

» RELATED: Flashback Fotos: Six Flags Over Georgia through the years

2. And in the same week, the same ride had another mechanical problem, causing the roller coaster to “stop abruptly,” and sent four riders to the hospital, the New York Times reported.

3. In 2002, a 58-year-old foreman walked into a locked, restricted area at Six Flags Over Georgia, right into the path of the upside-down roller coaster, “Batman: The Ride.”

Samuel Milton Guyton, who had worked at the park for more than three months prior to the incident, was killed after a rider’s dangling legs struck him in the head.

4. In 2005, two 12-year-old girls were on a swinging, spinning carnival ride in Ellijay when a trailer awning opened into the ride’s path, causing both girls to suffer bad cuts on their legs, the AJC reported.

5. A 45-year-old Alabama man died of an apparent heart attack after riding the Goliath roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia in 2006.

Six Flags spokeswoman Christy Poore told the Associated Press the man was initially conscious during the ride, but was unconscious by the end.

» RELATED: Meet this requirement if you want to work at Six Flags

6. Also in 2006, an unusual electrical accident near Jasper’s Fun Slide ride led to the death of a 3-year-old child.

The AJC previously reported that the child suffered electrical burns and an irregular heartbeat after coming in contact with 110-volt electrical lighting wire while touching the stairs of the ride.

According to carnival officials, teenagers were “messing around” with an electrical box near the stairs. As one of the wires made contact with the stair rail, the child grabbed it.

7. In 2008, 17-year-old Asia Leeshawn Ferguson was decapitated by the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia.

According to the Associated Press, witnesses said Ferguson jumped the fence to retrieve a hat he lost while riding the roller coaster.

Ferguson, who was visiting from Springfield, South Carolina, was in the restricted area, which park officials said is marked with signs, when he was hit. 

» RELATED: Bill would require carnivals to pass inspection before operating

8. That same year, two 9-year-old boys were injured on a motorcycle kiddie ride at the Carroll County Fair Grounds.

One of the ride’s bikes fell off its path, leading to one boy’s broken leg and the other’s sprained ankle.

9. After a mechanical limit switch on Six Flags’ Wheelie ride failed in May 2009, the ride continued to spin for five to 10 minutes after it was meant to stop, causing four children to become ill and start vomiting.

Due to the ride operator’s “miscommunication” with the supervisor, she didn’t activate the ride’s emergency stop, the AJC previously reported.

» RELATED: Boy, 5, dies after getting stuck in Atlanta’s Sun Dial restaurant

10. In July 2014, according to her parents, 14-year-old Laterrika Freeman of DeKalb County fell ill and developed problems in her lungs after playing in the Hurricane Harbor water park’s wave pool (part of Six Flags Over Georgia).

» RELATED: DeKalb parents sue Six Flags, hospitals over death of daughter

In 2016, the Freemans filed a wrongful death suit against the park and multiple hospitals, citing their daughter’s lungs were damaged by chemicals in the wave pool.

11. Last year, 13-year-old Brayden Cooper was left dangling several feet above the ground while on the Zipper ride at the Coosa Valley Fair in Rome, the AJC reported.

According to a media release, Cooper came out of his harness when his cart’s door came open.

Luckily, he was able to grab onto the harness and hang on until he was rescued without injuries.

While the federal government used to regulate amusement parks, for the past 35 years, regulation of major parks and rides is left up to state and local governments.

Under Georgia regulations, all amusement rides are inspected at least once and mobile carnival rides are inspected upon set up, Paul Welch, acting director of safety engineering at the state Labor Department told the AJC in 2009.

“If they’re inspected, they’re safe,” he said.

Operators are also required to report any injuries, incidents or damage to equipment.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, approximately 375 million people visit amusement parks in North America annually.

And amusement ride industry officials note that the number of incidents nationally is minuscule when compared with the number of people going to theme parks and carnivals.

Read more about Georgia carnival scares, safety tips, statistics and more.

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