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Delta Fair: Accident, possible gunfire mar fun

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By Carolyn Bahm
Special to The Independent

Delta Fair fun turned to fear this weekend as people broke bones on the Moonraker ride and later a panicked crowd feared gunfire Saturday night. The gunfire remains unverified, but the ride injuries were all too real. Previously, two fair workers were also electrocuted on Aug. 30 during fair setup.

On Saturday afternoon, the operator for the Moonraker ride manually released the restraints too early. Earl Farrell, public information officer for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday that some people were jostled off the ride. Four refused medical treatment, and eight were transported to Baptist East.

Injuries included a broken ankle, leg, collarbone and arm.

Delta Fair President Mark Lovell said the ride was not “30 feet in the air” as some stories have reported. Instead, the safety mode kicked in for some reason and lowered the ride. The operator, who has managed that ride for years, hit the manual override feature two to three seconds too soon.

Lovell also said no one was flung completely off the Moonraker as widely reported in social media. Of the eight people taken to the hospital, one was the ride operator, who had an anxiety attack. The remaining seven walked themselves to the ambulances. External evaluations by the emergency medical technicians didn’t uncover any noticeable cuts, bruises or serious injuries among the riders, Lovell said. The EMTs’ comments were the basis for Lovell’s premature statement that there were no injuries.

Later, X-rays at the hospital revealed that four of the riders did have broken bones. None of them stayed at a hospital overnight, Lovell said.

He emphasized that he is very grateful that no one was hurt more seriously. He also invites people to come to the fair this year.

“I stll stand on the fact that we have a safe, clean family-friendly event,” he said Tuesday. He, his wife and his 16-year-old daughter enjoyed rides at the fair over the weekend.

“It’s our 10th year,” Lovell said. “We’ve gone a long time with just minor cuts and bruises. I think more people have been hurt in the last few days in their yards. Our rides are safe.”

The Moonraker remains on shutdown for now, pending further inspection.

At Shelby County Code Enforcement, Allen Medlock said state inspectors have interceded and the ride is still shut down as of Tuesday morning pending their review of corrections that have reportedly removed the manual override feature while the ride is still in motion.

Medlock, who is the administrator and building official for Memphis and Shelby County, said his office typically does a visual inspection to ensure that amusement rides appear to be in working order with all the pins in place. His office doesn’t check computer programs.

The state office that oversees amusement ride inspections is a component of the Department of Boiler and Elevator Inspections within the Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

Lovell said he hoped to hear from the state inspectors by Tuesday morning. Chris Cannon, director of communications for the Department of Labor & Workforce Development, said it would be unusual for the fair to get approval that quickly. The State of Tennessee doesn’t have amusement device inspectors and so hired third-party inspector Bill Costagliola, who is certified by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials (NAARSO) as an inspector.

He conducted his inspection over the weekend and delivered his report to Cannon on Tuesday. The inspection report said the ride was reprogrammed so that doors and lap bars won’t open unless the ride is in the “zero” position on the deck and not moving.

Costagliola concluded with, “I feel the ride is now safe to operate.” See the full inspection report online at bartlett-express.com. However, the state of Tennessee is requiring all device owned by Belle City Amusements (including the
Delta Fair’s Moonraker) to be inspected within the state before a new permit is issued. The company’s current operating permit expires on Sept. 10.

The Moonraker incident wasn’t the only cause of injuries at this year’s fair. During Delta Fair setup on Aug. 30, two fair workers were electrocuted when the Ring of Fire ride was being lifted and it touched powerlines. Both workers are okay, Lovell said. One was released from medical care within the hour, and the other is recovering from foot surgery.

Later on Saturday after the Moonraker accident, there was a panic at the fair when people feared shots had been fired. Crowd estimates vary between several dozen and up to 100 people who stampeded across the fairgrounds in fear. Farrell, however, said his office couldn’t locate a shooter or even confirm that a shot was actually fired. He said fair security took one person into custody; then man was not arrested but was asked to leave the grounds.

The Delta Fair & Music Festival will be on the ground of the Agricenter at 7777 Walnut Grove Road, Memphis, through Sept. 11. See details at deltafest.com.

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