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Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Amusement Park Manager Found Guilty for Death of Visitor

A manager of a Tennessee amusement park was found guilty of reckless homicide and could be sentenced to up to four years in prison for negligently maintaining a ride that resulted in the death of a patron. The jury spared the man the harsher second-degree murder conviction, which carries a penalty of up to 25 years in jail. The manager was portrayed as recklessly playing "Russian roulette" with his customers' lives, short-circuiting safety systems because he cared more about selling tickets than protecting his patrons. Prosecutors said the park had failed to act even after a previous patron complained in July 2003 that his seat harness opened and he was nearly thrown from the ride. (Mansfield, "Amusement park manager found guilty in death of woman on ride, AP, 05/18/05).

In the wake of this incident, Daniel Engber at Slate answers a good question: Who regulates our nation's amusement parks? (05/17/05) The answer: a mish-mash of federal, state and local laws, and in some cases, the amusement parks themselves. A sample:
    The federal government only issues regulations for rides that aren't fixed in a permanent location, like those in small, traveling carnivals, while states can regulate rides that are fixed in place, like those at the Rockin' Raceway. Owners and manufacturers also subscribe to a set of voluntary industry-safety standards set out by the nonprofit ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials).

    Most states have special laws to ensure the safety of amusement park goers. Many license amusement park ride owner-operators and require them to have at least six-figure liability insurance. Some states also perform equipment inspections (sometimes for a fee), require daily equipment tests, and set forth rules about staffing.
A few isolated incidents should not cause a national amusement park panic, but I for one would like to know that when I pay $40 to go to an amusement park, at least some of that money goes to ensure that I will walk out at the end of the day.


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