After a July 18 accident involving a North Star Amusements bungee cord ride that left a 13-year-old Gallatin County girl with a broken pelvic bone, this year’s Western Montana Fair is absent the “Power Tramp.”
“We don’t want to do anything (with it) until we have it checked,” says Arlene Lauer of North Star Amusements.
North Star signed a three-year contract with Missoula County last spring, and since then the company’s rides have been involved in two high-profile accidents. Witnesses to last month’s Gallatin County Fair incident told reporters that when the bungee cord failed, teenager Melissa Cotton fell roughly 10 feet to the ground.
“Out of nowhere, I hear this snap,” Hanibal Clayton told Bozeman NBC affiliate, KTVM.
Lauer says North Star’s insurance company is investigating what happened.
North Star also garnered headlines in May 2013 after a 16-year-old girl fell off a North Star bungee cord ride at Wyoming’s Fremont County Spring Spectacular. The teenager was hospitalized after hitting her head.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit involving North Star’s Dragon Wagon Rollercoaster was settled out of court in January. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2009 accident at the Gallatin County Fair when Jared and Debra Schroeder alleged their children, then ages 4 and 5, sustained lasting soft-tissue injuries on the ride.
In response to questions about safety, Lauer says North Star employs an independent third-party inspector to scrutinize rides annually, as is required by its insurance carrier. Ride operators and carnival supervisors also perform daily inspections.
“Things can happen,” Lauer says. “But we do our best.”
Some question, however, whether carnival operators like North Star are best suited to oversee safety. Absent federal oversight of carnival ride operations, states are left to craft their own rules. Montana is one of six states that offer no scrutiny, says Jeffrey Reiff, a Philadelphia personal injury lawyer who frequently goes toe-to-toe with amusement operators.
“Your state is not a good state, in my opinion, for ride safety,” Reiff says.
Montana code states that “an informed patron is in the best position to avoid risks inherent to amusement rides.” The problem with that wording, Reiff says, is there’s no data regarding carnival safety to inform patrons.
“How can you know about the risk if you don’t know about the background?” Reiff asks.
The Western Montana Fair continues in Missoula through August 10.