Utah amusement parks may finally have state oversight, inspections

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Jayson Harris visited Lagoon amusement park in October 2018. His last ride of the night was on Rocket Re-Entry, a ride that drops riders from the top of a tower and bounces them up and down.

The ride is equipped with an over-the-shoulder safety harness. Harris said before the ride started, operators singled him out to check his harness.

Harris said the ride started, and as it dropped from the tower, he said it felt like the harness partially disengaged.

“We went up to the top and I was holding on to the handlebar and then the seat, too,” said Harris. “And we dropped and it moved up more. I don’t think if I’d have been holding on to the seat, I probably would have fell out.”

Harris reported his experience to his friend’s mom, Shannel Johnson. She took it to Lagoon’s main office, and said she was not impressed with the response from Lagoon.

She claimed the employee did not take an incident report from her, or even her name and phone number.

“He said ‘OK, we’ll let the ride know’,” said Johnson. “And I said ‘is that all?’ And he says ‘well yeah, what more do you want?’”

As Johnson began looking into who else she could report the incident to, she was shocked to learn—nobody.

As Get Gephardt has reported before, Utah is one of six states that has no state agency with jurisdiction over amusement park rides.

Utah state Rep. Val Potter is trying to change that. Potter spent 14 years working in the amusement ride industry and last year sponsored a bill to make sure amusements are safe for Utahns.

The bill would have called for mandatory inspections, created a commission for reporting and shutdown certain injuries, and would give the public a place to report dangerous situations.

“We just need to know that they’re meeting the basic standard,” said Potter. “That’s what the bill requires.”

Potter’s bill failed in the 2018 General Session, in part due to what Potter calls pushback from some amusement parks, including Lagoon.

Throughout the course of our investigation, we found that as of the date of this segment airing, Lagoon is involved in eight lawsuits involving injuries at the amusement park.

Lagoon’s spokesman declined an on-camera interview but in an emailed statement tells 2News:

Lagoon is not opposed to oversight and currently operates with oversight, both public and private. Lagoon has supported Representative Potter’s effort and has spent enormous hours and resources working with him to succeed in implementing some of the strongest ride safety legislation in the country. It is our understanding that Representative Potter proposes that these regulations be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor.

However, Lagoon and Utah’s ski resorts already have amusement rides, which are currently regulated by the Department of Transportation, Utah Passenger Ropeway Safety Committee. We feel that the Department of Transportation is the best place for the bill to reside and this is where our only disagreement lies. Lagoon has always been supportive of any effort to improve safety and do not oppose the bill as we understand it.

As for the situation Jayson Harris described, Lagoon claimed it did not happen.

In a statement, Lagoon said:

it had not malfunctioned on the date in question. After Ms. Johnson spoke with our Guest Services representative, the rides manager was contacted immediately. The park closed at 11:00 pm, close to the time Ms. Johnson would have reported her concern about The Rocket. The following morning, October 14, our Maintenance Technicians, Rides Department, and the Safety and Security Department inspected the ride; all safety functions were operating correctly. The ride opened as scheduled that morning.

Potter said he is currently working on another iteration of the Amusement Ride Safety Inspections bill for the 2019 General Session.

He told 2News that it is being revised to potentially change the oversight of the inspections, but will still require safety inspections, require operators to carry liability insurance, and require operators to report serious injury to authorities.

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