Young man killed at Ohio State Fair joined Marines a week ago

CNN Newsource

OHIO — A high school student who dreamed for years of joining the military and had just enlisted in the Marines was killed when a spinning and swinging thrill ride broke apart and sent several of its passengers tumbling onto the midway at the Ohio State Fair.

The 18-year-old’s girlfriend was among seven who were badly injured when the Fire Ball flung riders – some still strapped in their seats – through the air.

A few people on the midway were hit by debris.

The ride’s Dutch manufacturer on Thursday told operators of the same attraction at fairs and festivals worldwide to stop using it until more is learned about what caused the malfunction.

Federal and state investigators have begun working to find what caused the wreck on Wednesday, the fair’s opening day.

Video taken by a bystander of the swinging, spinning Fire Ball ride in action captured a crashing sound. A section holding four riders came apart, and screams could be heard as at least two people were ejected and plunged toward the ground. Other riders were still in their seats as they fell.

Tyler Jarrell, of Columbus, was thrown about 50 feet (15 meters) and pronounced dead on the midway. The Marine Corps and school officials said Jarrell enlisted last week and was going to begin basic training after his high school graduation next year.

“That was just this past Friday. Then he goes to the state fair and he is involved in this horrible tragedy. It’s just devastating,” said Capt. Gerard Lennon Jr., a naval science instructor in the Junior ROTC program at Jarrell’s high school.

Lennon said the teenager had been interested in going into the service or law enforcement for quite a while.

The injured ranged in age from 14 to 42. At least two were listed in critical condition.

Jarrell’s girlfriend, Keziah Lewis, doesn’t remember the accident and has pelvis, ankle and rib injuries, her mother told The Columbus Dispatch.

Lewis, a University of Cincinnati student, underwent one surgery and faces a second.

“She kept asking for her boyfriend,” Clarissa Williams said. “I had to tell her he was the one who was deceased.”

Inspectors looked over the ride while it was assembled and signed off on it hours before it flew apart, according to authorities and records released Thursday.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich shut down all rides at the fair and ordered them inspected again. He said it was too early to say whether inspectors missed something that led to the tragedy.

“It’s a nightmare. It’s a terrible situation,” he said.

The ride’s manufacturer, KMG, said the one at the Ohio fair was built in 1998. Forty-three of the rides, also known as the Afterburner, are in use around the world, 11 of them in the U.S., according to KMG. None has had a serious malfunction before, the company told the AP.

The Fire Ball swings 24 riders back and forth like a pendulum 40 feet (12 meters) above the ground while they sit facing each other in four-seat carriages that spin at 13 revolutions a minute, according to the company’s website.

Records show that inspections on Fire Ball were up to date and a state permit was issued for the ride on Wednesday, the fair’s opening day.

Ohio Department of Agriculture records provided to The Associated Press showed passing marks on inspections of about three dozen items, including possible cracks, brakes, proper assembly and installation.

All rides at the fair are checked several times when they are being set up to ensure the work is done the way the manufacturer intended, said Agriculture Director David Daniels.

Michael Vartorella, Ohio’s chief inspector of amusement ride safety, said the Fire Ball was inspected three or four times before the fair opened.

Amusements of America, the company that provides rides to the state fair, said its staff also had inspected the ride before it opened.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is also investigating. It estimates there were 30,900 injuries associated with amusement attractions last year that required an emergency room visit.

It said there have been at least 22 fatalities associated with amusement attractions since 2010.

The Ohio State Fair, which remained open Thursday, is one of the biggest state fairs in the U.S. It drew 900,000 people last year.

“Our hearts are heavy for the families of those involved in last night’s tragic accident,” fair officials said on Twitter.