Archive for Saturday, June 18, 2005

Disney World death raises calls for theme park oversight

June 18, 2005

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— If state inspectors who regulate Florida's thrill rides want to look into why a 4-year-old boy died this week after going on "Mission: Space" at Walt Disney World, they are going to need permission from the theme park.

That is because Disney World and the state's other big theme parks are exempt from most Florida laws governing carnival and amusement park rides.

"We don't have the authority to close the park down or close the ride down," said Rob Jacobs, chief of the Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection.

Given the theme park industry's political clout in the state, there is little chance Florida's lawmakers will undo the 1989 law that protects it. But the death on Monday of Daudi Bamuwamye has led to renewed calls for federal oversight of the industry.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has been trying for years to end a 1981 loophole created for the nation's amusement park industry that lets the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulate rides at traveling carnivals but not at fixed theme parks.

Last month, Markey introduced a bill that would restore the federal agency's oversight of permanent rides. State regulation has been insufficient, the congressman said in an e-mail after Daudi's death, adding that the industry "is in denial."

"States are only responsible for their own jurisdictions, so rides get fixed only one state at a time even when there are similar rides in dozens of states," Markey said.

Moses Bamuwamye, above, talks to the media while holding a picture of his son Daudi Bamuwamye Wednesday in Sellersville, Pa. Daudi Bamuwamye died on the "Mission: Space" ride Monday at Disney&squot;s Epcot Center in Florida.

Moses Bamuwamye, above, talks to the media while holding a picture of his son Daudi Bamuwamye Wednesday in Sellersville, Pa. Daudi Bamuwamye died on the "Mission: Space" ride Monday at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida.

Currently, the nation's theme and amusement parks are regulated by a patchwork system of state and private inspectors. Eleven states, including Kansas, do not regulate rides, and 13 states do not require public reporting of amusement park accidents, according to Saferparks, a California-based group that is pushing for greater ride safety.

Theme park industry leaders said there is no need for federal oversight.

"Under the current system of state and local oversight, we have produced an exceptionally safe record," said Beth Robertson of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. "The likelihood of being injured on a ride : is 1 in 10 million. The chance of being fatally injured is 1 in 790 million."

Daudi, a boy from Sellersville, Pa., died after going on a huge centrifuge that simulates a rocket launch. The ride is so intense that it has motion sickness bags and several riders have been treated for chest pain. Investigators have yet to establish the cause of death.

Despite a renewed focus on safety following the boy's death, Floridians should not expect any changes to the state law that exempts large parks, said Democratic state Sen. Steve Geller.

"It wouldn't pass," he said.

The state's major theme parks are some of Florida's largest private employers and represent a major contributor to the state's $57 billion tourism industry.

On Thursday, the California Supreme Court made it easier to sue amusement parks for injuries by ruling that operators of amusement park rides must be held to the same safety standards that apply to buses, planes and other forms of transportation. The case arose from a 23-year-old woman who sued the Walt Disney Co. over a brain injury she suffered on a ride at Disneyland.

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