Kasich, Ohioans must demand answers about state fair tragedy

Screams coming from amusement park rides as riders are slung back and forth, up and down, are a common sound at fairs and festivals during the summer months. But on Wednesday at the Ohio State Fair, the screams were a reaction to real terror.

One man died and seven others were injured when a section of a ride called the “Fire Ball” fell apart. Gov. John Kasich ordered all rides at the fair shut down until they could be inspected.

But they had been inspected already, more than once.

Like many other states, Ohio has strict safety rules regulating amusement rides. The “Fire Ball” had been inspected three or four times before the fair began, according to Michael Vartorella, the state’s chief amusement ride inspector.

Vartorella added that state inspectors take their jobs very seriously. “My children, my grandchildren ride this equipment. Our guys do not rush through this stuff. We look at it, we take care of it and we pretend it’s our own,” he told The Associated Press.

If anything, that attitude makes what happened at the state fair, in Columbus, even more troubling.

By definition, amusement park company workers who erected the ride missed something badly wrong with it. Then, in repeated examinations, so did state inspectors.

How did that happen? What needs to be done to address the problem?

And it is not fear-mongering to ask why, if a critical safety malfunction occurred on the “Fire Ball,” the public should have confidence in follow-up inspections on that ride or any other.

For decades, nearly all amusement rides were relatively tame machines such as Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds or variations on them. But during the past few decades, ever-more violent rides have become popular.

Riders — and often parents and grandparents who allow children to climb aboard the attractions — expect that no matter how scary they may be, they will be safe.

Kasich should order a top-to-bottom evaluation of how amusement rides are checked, to determine what changes need to be made in the process. Officials in other states should pay close attention.

Once the fair closes, those machines and others like them will be coming to fairs, festivals and carnivals where our children and grandchildren will be clamoring to ride them.