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Southwestern Law School

Monday, April 14, 2008

Kentucky Kingdom Maintenance Supervisor: Maintenance Ignored

The AP reports that the maintenance staff at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom failed in several potentially material ways to properly maintain the cables on the drop ride that later severed a girl's feet.  The revelation came in the deposition of the head of the maintenance staff:

John Schmidt, the park's ride-maintenance manager since 1999, said in a deposition in November that technicians for the theme park never performed a hands-on inspection before the accident on any of the 10 cables on the Superman Tower of Power ride.

Schmidt, 56, also said that park technicians did not lubricate the cables monthly, and that they applied cornstarch to reduce "cable slippage" from over-lubrication that they believed was coming from the ride's machinery.

It appears that the park also did not do at least one part of the recommended maintenance, using a rag to check for snags:

Schmidt said in his deposition that workers conducted twice-weekly visual inspections, "It was never brought to my attention to check those cables with a rag for snags."

The copy of the manual I have doesn't note the rag method.


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I am the local reporter who has covered this incident since June 21, the day it happened. The manual I obtained through the Lasitter family was given to them through discovery from the park's attorneys. It is legitimate, and it seems to contain a LOT of info about the ride that was not included in the manual you reference. I believe the one you have (I found the same one from an industry worker) is at least part of the manual Intamin gave Six Flags when it installed the ride in 1995. The other manual, I believe, is something issued later to serve as the current manual.

As for the Kaitlyn Lasitter, she is a tough girl, according to her father. She is still in a good deal of pain, and faces possibly having her re-attached right foot amputated again if it does not show some improvement in the next year or so.

From a maintenance standpoint, the manual clearly states these things must to be done to ensure safety and to prolong the life of the parts. Schmidt testified that these were not done by the book. Even though the park has done many things right, these oversights are glaring evidence that would be easily understood by a jury.

From talking with the father of the girl, all he wants is to get the message out and spur changes at parks nationwide that parents demand more than an "illusion of safety" before they will send their children to these parks.

Like some in Washington and elsewhere, Randy Lasitter would like federal regulators to inspect rides behind the parks, rather than leaving it up to individual states. Lasitter, who grew up riding safe rides at park in his nat is hoping to be asked to testify at an upcoming Congressional hearing on ride safety and regulation of parks. There is also a former Six Fkags executive who has written Mass. Rep. Ed Markey, saying he has changed his position on federal regulation since he helped with the deregulation in the 1980s. This executive also will testify to Congress on the need for federal oversight, although no date has been set on the hearing.

Our state regulating body, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, has about seven full-time ride inspectors than perform more than 4,000 initial inspections each year of rides at parks, fairs and carnivals. They asked state legislators for more money this session to add inspectors, saying they currently cannot perform as many follow-up inspections as they would have liked. The state, strapped for cash, gave the Ag. Dept. some, but there still seems to remain the fact that many rides, like the Superman Tower of Power that Kaitlyn was riding, have too many parts in inconvenient locations and only the most-skilled inspectors can catch flaws on these.

What are you thoughts on having the federal government (CPSC or some new organization) get back in the game of regulating the amusement industry? They have not had jurisdiction since the 1980s, when the amusement industry lobbied successfully for their own freedom. I believe most industry folks will say they are well regulated by the states, just as Kentucky Kingdom officials said in a Washington Post articlelast December. In addition to talking with The Post, the Lasitters have chosen to speak with a reporter from Good Housekeeping, which will feature ride safety in their June issue. The Lasitters, who do not watch television, have turned down numerous TV appearances for Good Morning America and the like. They have also shut out local TV stations, although Randy did hand over information this week to one local station (we ran an article on it last Sunday)

Posted by: Charlie White | Apr 16, 2008 9:25:02 PM

I'll try to do a more exhaustive followup later today, but I want to quickly note that I didn't mean to suggest that the manual in your article was not legitimate -- you've done good reporting on this case from the start and I didn't doubt its legitimacy. I just was observing that I had a different version.

More later.

Posted by: Bill Childs | Apr 17, 2008 3:34:31 AM

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