In wake of roller coaster death, U.S. senator calls for safety standards

Posted Monday, Jul. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Safety statistics Approximately 297 million guests visit the 400 United States amusement parks annually and take 1.7 billion safe rides. The chance of being seriously injured on a ride at a fixed-site park in the U.S. are 1 in 24 million. Of the 1,415 ride-related injuries, 61 — or less than 5 percent — required overnight treatment at a hospital. Source: International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

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Declaring it’s a “mistake” for the federal government to regulate baby strollers more stringently than roller coasters, a U.S. senator Monday called for national safety standards for amusement park rides after the death of a 52-year-old Dallas woman Friday at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said amusement park guests are assuming a huge risk because of the lack of federal regulations. He said enough accidents have occurred to warrant federal intervention, most recently Friday’s death of the woman who was tossed from the Texas Giant roller coaster.

“We need to close this ‘roller coaster loophole’ and ensure federal authorities can investigate these accidents and order necessary safety improvements,” Markey said in a statement.

The amusement park industry has argued that accidents, particularly fatal accidents, are rare.

In his first publicly made comments since the accident, the company’s top executive said Monday the ride will remain closed until it is safe to ride again.

CEO Jim Reid-Anderson made his comments from the park as Six Flags Entertainment Corp., parent company of Six Flags Over Texas, held its scheduled second-quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts. The call is typically held in New York.

The company had issued statements over the weekend, expressing concern for the victim’s family and limiting comments to saying it was committed to finding the cause of the accident.

Reid-Anderson started the conference call in a somber tone saying it was being done “with heavy hearts.”

“As you may already have heard, one of our guests died Friday in an accident at our park in Arlington, Texas,” Reid-Anderson said. “We have been here throughout the weekend to support our team as we work through this tragic event. You can rest assured [the ride] will remain closed until we are certain it is safe to ride.”

Company officials and others are investigating the cause of the accident, Reid-Anderson said, adding he had no additional information to share.

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family and we are providing support as best as we can,” Reid-Anderson said.

The victim, identified as 52-year-old Rosa Ayala-Goana, died of multiple traumatic injuries, according to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s website. She also goes by the name of Rosy Esparza, according to family members.

The place where she died was a roller coaster track, according to the medical examiner.

Esparza was thrown from the roller coaster about 6:30 p.m. Friday. The death was ruled an accident. Previous media reports have said she voiced concerns about being safely secured in the coaster seat.

Officials with Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington declined to answer a series of questions from the Star-Telegram on Monday, including what restrictions are in place for the Texas Giant and whether Esparza was riding alone in the car when she was thrown out.

Spokeswoman Sharon Parker said in an email that “we will not release any details pertaining to the investigation until it is complete.”

Six Flags’ website says that there is a 48-inch height requirement for the Texas Giant, but does not list any others. It is described as a “max” roller coaster on a thrill rating that also includes mild and moderate.

Political reaction

Markey, meanwhile, said, “While the cause of this tragic accident is still unknown, one thing is clear: Roller coasters that hurtle riders at extreme speeds along precipitous drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight. A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.

“This is a mistake.”

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Arlington, said he wants to keep the focus on the family and its loss. “The main thing to remember right now is that a family is mourning the loss of a beloved mother,” Krause said in a prepared statement.

Regarding state regulatory issues, Krause said: “Six Flags, and the roller coaster in question, were in full compliance with the Texas Department of Insurance at the time of the accident. I am confident Six Flags will take the steps necessary to ensure a tragedy like this does not occur again and stay in compliance with all standards relating to safety and security in their park.”

Staff writer Deanna Boyd contributed to this report, which includes material from the Associated Press.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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