A man fell 28 feet to his death from the HiMiler roller coaster in the waning moments of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo season.
The 46-year-old was given CPR at the scene before being taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. In addition, the man fell on someone, who suffered a broken ankle as a result.
According to the Houston Chronicle story on the incident, Leroy Shafer, the vice president and chief operating officer of the rodeo, says this is the first death at the carnival in 38 years.
Inspectors, including Shafer, said they thoroughly checked the ride and found no malfunctions, but they are investigating.
The Houston Press has written about the dangers of roller coasters dating back to our 2004 story Thrilled to Death. Last year, as part of a series on the rides at the carnival, Hair Balls blogged about the Hi-Miler coaster:
We didn't ride the Hi-Miler, instead leaving the roller coaster to 11-year-old Hair Balls correspondent Jade Matusow and our excellent photographer, Jeff Balke. As you'll see below, neither rated the ride with a very high barf or scream factor. But they still seemed harried afterward. Balke described the ride as "painful" and "more violent than the Texas Cyclone." (Ah, AstroWorld, you live on in our hearts and minds.) Matusow said she thought her leg might be bruised.
In the comments section, the same day the story went up, I personally commented on the experience:
It WAS painful! No gentle curves on this one, just abrupt u-turns at the top of each bump that jarred you against the non-padded metal side of the car.
I tried to be all cool and shoot a couple photos with the point-and-shoot but abandoned that idea within about 15 seconds as I realized my hand was needed much more for keeping me from flying out the side of the car than for shooting purty pictures.
But, the fear of riding the Hi-Miler pales in comparison to injuries detailed in our 2004 story Rodeo Hat Trick, in which injuries received on the rodeo carnival ride Euro Slide, which was in operation this year, went unreported by Ray Cammack Shows, the carnival ride operator contracted by the rodeo.
According to the Chronicle story, Ray Cammack Shows has contracted with the rodeo for 12 years; however, the company had been with the rodeo for ten years at the time of the Press story.
There appear to be no annual lists of injuries and fatalities at both carnivals and fixed amusement parks, though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission does allow queries of their database for injuries reported by hospitals possibly related to amusement parks. In 2004, the CPSC published a comprehensive report finding there were an estimated 2,500 injuries that year and an average of 4.4 fatalities each year at all carnivals and amusement parks from 1997 through 2004. Their numbers indicated that fewer fatalities could be attributed to mobile rides used at carnivals.
The Texas Department of Insurance, which has oversight of amusement parks, publishes a list of quarterly injury reports submitted by amusement park operators. There were five reported injuries in 2005 at the rodeo carnival ranging from sprained ankles to bloody noses, but there were none reported between 2006 and 2010, indicating either there were no injuries or no reports filed by the operator.
Ray Cammack Shows details their safety policies on their Web site:
RCS is committed to providing the safest and friendliest environment possible. "We're a family owned and operated business," says President and CEO Guy Leavitt, "and many of our employees' children ride these rides, so you can be confident that safety is a priority."
RCS performs daily computerized ride and equipment inspections using automated maintenance management created by RCS. Additionally, all rides are inspected during setup and takedown.
Not only does RCS have a comprehensive maintenance and inspection schedule, they also take steps to make certain their ride operators and midway workers are trained and knowledgeable regarding safety and cleanliness. That's why all employees must pass a drug screening test and complete a rigorous training and orientation program.
At the time of posting, Hair Balls was awaiting a return call from someone at the Texas Department of Insurance for clarification on what the requirements are for submitting injury reports and how post-injury investigations are handled.
According to reports, the operator of the Hi-Miler roller coaster was not looking at the roller coaster when Brian Greenhouse fell 28 feet to his death, but, after inspection, officials are still baffled as to how Greenhouse was able to leave his seat.
The car Greenhouse was riding in was inspected immediately after the fall, and the leg-restraint and locking mechanisms weren't compromised, Leroy Shafer, the Rodeo's chief operating officer, told Hair Balls. He said he sat in the same car to test it out himself, and found that he couldn't move past the leg restraint.
"That's what gets so perplexing about this thing, is how did this person come out of that car?" he said, adding that inspectors are running every conceivable test on the equipment.
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Several of the people directly behind Greenhouse left after the ride ended and officials are still looking for witnesses to come forward.
"There was a lot of people on the ground in the area, in both directions...if anybody out there saw this guy actually come out of the car, we would really like to talk to them," Shafer said.
Shafer is asking anyone who actually saw Greenhouse come out of his seat to call 832-667-1000.
"I cannot tell you how saddened the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is about this," he told us. "We pride ourselves on being a family-affordable, family-friendly, family-safe entertainment operation....We're going to do everything we can to determine what happened here and take any measures feasible to us to see that it doesn't happen again."