Carnival has 'layers of protection' for safe rides

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ST. THOMAS - Mechanical engineer Luis González Jr. started his inspection of the Carnival Village rides at 10:55 a.m. on Thursday.

A consultant based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, González said he is well-acquainted with the particular spinning, twirling and zooming contraptions erected in the Fort Christian parking lot. He said he often is called to cities and towns across the Caribbean to inspect the traveling rides, which are owned and operated by another San Juan-based company, R&R Enterprises.

As he walked through Carnival Village, González said he was there to make sure all the rides' bolts, pins and mechanical supports were properly in place. He touched the rides' restraint bars, making sure they opened and closed, and he made notes of about eight items that he said were minor changes that must take place before the rides can be powered up for the public today.

"I will give them this list," González said, "and they have to correct all this before I will issue certification."

The dozen rides came from Puerto Rico to St. Thomas on 29 trailers and two boats, said R&R Enterprises' owner, Dwight Pastrana. In addition to the equipment, Pastrana brought with him 90 employees, roughly 30 of whom are ride mechanics, who will maintain and operate the rides.

A third-generation ride operator, Pastrana said the oldest of the rides, the merry-go-round, was built in 1955. The newest are a family-focused bumblebee ride and a caterpillar-shaped roller coaster, both of which cater to children and are just more than a year old, Pastrana said.

The underside of one of the spinning adult rides, named Trabant, was being supported along its perimeter by narrow stanchions, some of which were perched precariously on decaying and scattered wood blocks.

Pastrana said he was not concerned by the state of the stanchions and pointed to how the ride's center was being supported by a heavy semitrailer chassis.

"That does not do that much," Pastrana said. "What really makes the thing is the chassis."

Carnival Committee executive director Caswil Callender said R&R Enterprises has been contracted to do the St. Thomas Carnival rides for the last 10 years. His committee, Callender said, makes sure an engineer - in this case, González - inspects and approves all rides before they are used.

"He comes here just to look at them, and he has to sign off on every little thing, every little aspect that's dealing with the safety of the rides," Callender said.

Callender said that in addition to González's required mechanical inspection, the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources coordinates inspections of the rides' electrical systems.

"We have several layers of protection built in," Callender said.

V.I. Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr. said his agency will not license the Carnival rides until it sees a favorable inspection report from a licensed structural engineer, who in this case is González.

In addition to its oversight of the mobile Carnival rides, Biggs said, his department requires permanent amusement rides, such as the new Ferris wheel at Paradise Point, to pass an annual engineering inspection.

"They have done an inspection," Biggs said.

Pastrana said the R&R Enterprises crew examines the rides every day to make sure they are safe.

As he walked around and on the rides, González said it had not been more than 10 or 15 days since he inspected this same batch.

Asked where the traveling rides were located the last time he inspected them, González said that he could not recall, and that it may have been a month since he last saw them.

González marked his inspection as completed at 11:57 a.m., exactly one hour and two minutes after he started. His report paved the way for riders to hop on and buckle in for a thrill ride.

- Contact reporter Karen Hollish at 774-8772 ext. 304 or email

Ride fatalities rare, injuries more common

Each year between 1997 and 2004 an estimated 2,800 to 4,300 people nationwide went to the emergency room because they were hurt on a mobile amusement ride such as those at Carnival Village, according to a 2005 report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"These counts suggest that the number of mobile-amusement-ride-related deaths each year is, on average, likely to be less than one," the report said.

While there was no statistically significant trend, positive or negative, for mobile amusement ride injuries during that time period, there was a statistically significant upward trend in the number of inflatable ride injuries, according to the report.

In 2004, inflatable rides resulted in 4,900 non-occupational injuries treated in emergency rooms, the report said.

None of the rides being installed and inspected at Carnival Village on Thursday appeared to be inflatable.

- Karen Hollish One harrowing carnival ride that ended in injuries was enough to keep Precious Flaharty and Kwanique Barthlett off of them forever.

The friends, now Charlotte Amalie High School seniors, sustained leg injuries when a ride broke and sent them flying to the ground during the 2007 Crucian Christmas Festival on St. Croix.

"We won't go on rides now," Barthlett said Thursday. "Not at all."

Flaharty and Barthlett were 13 years old and had just finished performing with the Sebastien Majorettes when they decided to get on a spinning umbrella ride that rose and dipped while spinning at high speed. The ride was operated by Solimar Entertainment, a Puerto Rican company.

The iron compartment the girls sat in separated from the ride, slammed into metal steps and crashed into a steel gate. Flaharty said she heard the ride creaking and felt her weight shift just before the compartment snapped away.

Barthlett said she tumbled out of the ride and started running away, but then she realized Flaharty's foot was still stuck in it. Barthlett returned to help her friend extricate herself from the painful situation.

"We limped to the side," Flaharty said.

There they waited for the arrival of three ambulances, which transported them and a bystander who had been grazed by the falling compartment to the hospital, Flaharty said. Barthlett said her foot was sprained by the accident and still hurts at times today. Flaharty said she sprained her Achilles tendon, which hurts during twirling and dancing routines. Flaharty, who won Best Talent during Saturday's Carnival Queen Selection Show, said the injury did not flare up during her winning twirling and dance performance because it was relatively brief.

But being around festival rides still makes Flaharty uneasy, she said. When she went on a trip to Walt Disney World, she avoided all the rides and recommended that her friends and family do the same.

"I don't think it's safe," Flaharty said.

- Karen Hollish

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