After Ohio accident, ride safety on organizers' minds as Maryland State Fair opens

With the 136th Maryland State Fair opening Thursday night, just one month after a man was killed on a ride at the Ohio State Fair, officials say they are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of thrill-seekers coming to Timonium over the next 12 days.

“Most of these rides have already been inspected here in the state of Maryland,” Rob Gavel, program manager of the safety inspection unit for the state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said during a news conference on ride safety held Wednesday morning at the fairgrounds. Inspectors will continue to check the fair’s 40 rides for the duration, he said.

The Timonium midway will include a ride similar to the Fire Ball, the attraction that fell apart mid-ride at the Ohio State Fair, killing 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell and injuring seven others.

Although the ride at the Maryland State Fair, called the Hydra, was built by the same Netherlands-based manufacturer, KMG, it is a newer model and machine, officials stressed. The Fire Ball that collapsed in Ohio was 18 years old, while the Hydra has only been operating for five months, said Andy Deggeller, general manager of the company that sets up and operates the Maryland State Fair’s carnival midway.

Ohio fair officials said the Fire Ball had passed multiple safety inspections before the incident, which was blamed on unseen corrosion inside one of the ride’s support beams.

In addition to Maryland’s seven full-time safety inspectors, Florida-based Deggeller Enterprises will be checking the rides daily — sometimes even more frequently, Deggeller said. His company employs 10 full-time ride supervisors who oversee a staff of about 70, he said.

Each ride undergoes its own inspection, Deggeller said, and those reports are then reviewed by a third party brought in especially for that purpose.

“I watched the video [from Ohio], and it took me a day or two before I could watch it again,” said Deggeller. “It’s a nightmare scenario for those in our industry.”

There is a circular ride called the Fireball at Timonium, but it is not the same Fire Ball ride from Ohio.

While promising that safety inspectors would remain especially diligent during the fair, which runs through Labor Day, officials stressed that riders (and their parents) have responsibilities, too, when it comes to safety. Height and weight restrictions on riders need to be strictly observed, they noted, and horseplay while on the rides is strongly discouraged.

“We can truly look our guests in the eye and say, ‘You are going to be riding safe equipment,’ ” said Becky Brashear, the fair’s assistant general manager.

Although most parts of the 136th Maryland State Fair won’t open until Friday, the rides and midway attractions will be open for “Ridemania” from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday. For $20, fairgoers will have unlimited access to the rides.

The remainder of the fair, including the traditional livestock and agriculture exhibits, will open beginning at 9 a.m. daily. The midway will be open beginning at 10 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Labor Day, and noon other days.

In addition, horse racing at Timonium’s 5/8-mile oval track is set for Friday through Sunday and Sept. 1-4. And concerts are set for 7 p.m. Friday (Halestorm, with opening act Fatally Yours) and Saturday (Sabrina Carpenter, with opening act Alex Aiono).

For more information, go to marylandstatefair.com.

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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