Fair ride company fined $100K for safety violations

Fair ride company fined $100K for safety violations

FRESNO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — An amusement ride company that has set up in the past at the Kern County Fair has been slapped with a hefty fine for safety violations.

Butler Amusements is paying more than $100,000 for violations on two of its rides, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The violations happened last year in Fresno. State inspectors say the Giant Wheel was missing all 12 bolts on the support legs, and the Flying Bobs ride was missing a crucial support system.

Butler Amusements also brings their rides to the Kern County Fair, and Eyewitness News investigated their safety record last summer and found two accidents the state investigated in 2012 happened at the local fair.

Last September, Butler COO Lance Moyer said safety is the company's top priority. He said the rides are checked by the state, insurance companies, and ride manufacturers. Moyer also said Butler inspects every ride daily before they open.

"Every piece of equipment that holds the ride together, all the safety systems, all the manual and automatic systems are checked," he'd explained to a reporter last summer.

Eyewitness News checked state records for 2012, and found a total of seven accidents were investigated.

Of the two in Kern County, on the "Evolution," a rider got a crushed thumb when an operator lowered the lap bar.

And, on the "Spin Out" ride, state officials found a stabilizer had been removed and wood blocking was used instead.

"The vibration of the ride, it caused the blocking to release," Moyer had said last year. "Nobody was injured seriously."

Riders had also reported the "Spin Out" broke down one night, leaving about 20 people dangling upside down for up to 10 minutes. The ride was re-opened a few days later after a state inspection.

For 2013, state records show seven amusement ride accidents were investigated, and five of those were operated by Butler Amusements, or "Just for Fun - Butler." These were in communities other than Kern County.

Of those mishaps, two resulted in minor injuries and three had no related injuries. The company was ordered to respond with various types of re-training and equipment replacements or adjustments.

With the incident at the Fresno fair, state inspectors say there were no injuries, but they called the incidents "willful serious violations of California's public safety regulations."

The statement from DOSH says the investigation started with a confidential tip, and officials found the "ride operator knowingly conducted rides after key bolts and cross bracing had been removed."

In that incident the Butler CEO told Fresno media he stands by the ride's safety.

Wednesday, Eyewitness News called Butler spokesman Lance Moyer, but our call was not returned.

Kern County Fair CEO Michael Olcott said Butler will be back with their rides at the local fair this year.

"We know the state inspects these rides all the time," Olcott said. "We are very concerned about the rides, and I work with (Butler) all the time making sure they're up to standards."

Olcott also notes Butler is one of the biggest carnival ride companies, and calls them one of the best in the industry.

"I will ask them to be overly cautious," Olcott added. "And that the rides are inspected thoroughly."