WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) – The booth that controls the emergency cutoff switch for an amusement park ride went unstaffed while a worker who was supposed to be on duty was taking a fatal ride, officials said Monday.
Witnesses reported that the 21-year-old worker was among the riders who were imploring the operator to get the ride going, though she was probably not wearing her seat belt, Westchester County police Commissioner Thomas Belfiore said.
Gabriella Garin, a seven-year park employee, was killed Friday night at Playland, the landmark county-owned park in Rye, when she was ejected from the Mind Scrambler. It was the second death on the ride, and the third on a Playland ride, since 2004.
Emphasizing that findings were preliminary, Belfiore said interviews with about 10 credible witnesses indicated that Garin “was not secured in the car and that when the ride started she knelt on the seat. Some witnesses say she then stood on the seat and then fell from the ride.”
When she fell, within 30 seconds of startup, she was struck by the speeding, spinning cars and was killed, he said.
However, the man who was running the ride said he thought she was belted in, Belfiore said. The operator, whose name has not been made public, reported Gavin was urging him to start the ride.
Belfiore and county parks Commissioner Joseph Stout said Gavin had helped load passengers onto the ride and was not on break or off duty when she boarded. They said two operators, Gavin and the man, had been assigned to the Mind Scrambler on Friday night.
Stout said that although the ride’s manufacturer calls for just one operator, the county told S&L amusements, which owns the ride and employs the operators, that two operators should be on duty during each ride, one in a special booth with a cutoff switch that was installed after the first death on the ride.
While calling it a “recommendation,” Stout added, “We were fully expecting and were under the impression that they were staffing that other booth every time the ride was open with another person in there who had been trained how to use the emergency cutoff switch.”
Belfiore said: “There are indications that was not being done.”
There was no listing for S&L in phone directories or in a search of business records. Stout said the company’s lawyers had pledged cooperation.
The booth was installed “to have another set of eyes within the dark ride to be able to see the whole ride and if someone is acting inappropriately to be able to turn the power off,” Stout said.
Because of the apparent failure to follow the new protocol, S&L’s other rides at Playland have been closed “until we can review with them their staffing and operational procedures,” Stout said.
The state Department of Labor, which inspects amusement park rides, said its investigators tentatively concurred with the scenario put forth by the county. Labor spokesman Leo Rosales said department investigators had been at the park since Friday and might do a re-enactment of the fatal ride within the next week. The Mind Scrambler passed inspection this spring, he said.
Elayne Cassara, mother of a 7-year-old boy who drowned in 2005 when he got out of his boat and fell during a water ride, said Monday that the park should be closed. She is suing Westchester over her son’s death.
“I was devastated to hear that another family had lost another child,” she said from her home in Weston, Conn. “How many children have to die?”
Belfiore said it’s believed there were 20 to 24 people on the ride when Garin fell and some were able to leave the scene as police were called and rescuers tried to help her. He asked them to come forward to be interviewed.