Society of Professional Journalists
Improving and protecting journalism since 1909

Advertisement
— ADVERTISEMENT —
Advertise with SPJ
3

News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

SPJ News
Events and Deadlines
SPJ Blogs
Quill Online
SPJ on Tumblr
Journalist's Toolbox

Stay in Touch
Twitter Tumblr Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Storify


More Articles
Main listing | Archive

News: SPJ applauds City of Tupelo, SPJ member, for bringing electronic public records into compliance with law
Quill: From the President
News: SPJ statement about alleged execution of American photojournalist James Foley
News: Journalism, science groups decry EPA move to muzzle national science advisers
News: Two organizations, two individuals honored by SPJ with Sunshine Award
News: Letter urges President Obama to be more transparent


Freedom of Information
About/History
News/Articles
Covering Prisons
Project Sunshine: Find FOI Help
Accessing Government Records
Shield Law Campaign
FOI Audit Tookit | PDF
Anti-SLAPP: Protect Free Speech
Official Secrets Act bill
FOI Groups
Annual FOI Reports
FOI Committee Roster
GovernmentAttic.org

FOI FYI: SPJ’s FOI Committee Blog
– Must read FOI stories – 7/25/14
– Must read FOI stories – 7/18/14
– FOIA should be proactive, not reactive

FOI Committee
This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Freedom of Information Committee Chair

David Cuillier
Assistant Professor
Department of Journalism
University of Arizona
Marshall Building, Room 323
Tucson, Ariz. 85721-0158
Work: 520/626-9694
Fax: 520/621-7557
Email
@DavidCuillier
Bio (click to expand) David Cuillier, Ph.D., is director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, where he researches and teaches access to public records, and is co-author with Charles Davis of "The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records." He served as FOI chair 2007-11 before becoming a national officer and serving as SPJ president in 2013-14.

Before entering academia, he was a newspaper reporter and editor in the Pacific Northwest. He has testified before Congress on FOI issues twice and provides newsroom training in access on behalf of SPJ. His long-term goal is to see a unified coalition of journalism organizations fighting for press freedom and funded through an endowed FOI war chest.


Reading Room
Freedom of Information
Ethics
Diversity
First Amendment/
Public & the Press


Articles for...
Freelancers
Students
Young Journalists
International Journalists
Educators

Home > Freedom of Information > Reading Room > Public records unearth dangers with carnival rides

SPJ Reading Room

Public records unearth dangers with carnival rides

By Charles Davis

Ever wonder about those carnival rides at the county fair? How many times have you ridden past a shopping center mini-fair, with its glowing rides, and thought to yourself, “Who knows how safe the Tilt-A-Whirl is? Who is in charge of these things?”

What about the new roller coasters out there, which pull more Gs than the Space Shuttle?

Following the death of a 4-year-old boy and a heart attack suffered by a teenage girl at Walt Disney World this summer, many questioned what kind of forces the rides impart on their passengers. Not surprisingly, the amusement parks weren’t talking, so Florida Today and its television news partner, WKMG-Local 6, decided to test the effects of Central Florida’s scream machines themselves.

Reporters rode all of the area’s biggest attractions armed with a device used to measure G-forces from all the angles that a twisting, turning roller coaster can throw at a rider.

It found strong forces that experts consider safe — assuming riders are in good health.

Among the findings by Florida Today and Local 6:

• The highest force measured in a climb was 5.37 Gs, for a split second, at the start of Rock Ôn’ Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios. The ride then quickly dropped below 2 Gs.

• The highest sustained force felt from forward acceleration was on Epcot’s Mission: Space ride. It exerted force against the rider’s chest of more than 1.5 Gs for about 14 seconds. That’s less than the space shuttle’s 3 Gs, and well within safety limits.

• Busch Gardens’ newest sensation, SheiKra, briefly topped 5 Gs four times. The 30-year-old Space Mountain at Disney’s Magic Kingdom also hit 5 Gs, but for less than 1/20th of a second.

Meanwhile, the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier wondered about the many roadside carnivals that pop up each summer and fall across the Palmetto State.

Its lead:

The Wacky Worm haunts Lucinda Sigman.

It’s not that the bucktoothed, clown-nosed caterpillar adorning a popular roller coaster is menacing. It’s that the worm reminds her of the only major amusement ride accident in the 48-year history of the Coastal Carolina Fair, the state’s second largest.

Five years ago on Oct. 27, the sun had set on the Ladson fairgrounds near Summerville. Brisk autumn air carried sweet aromas of elephant ears and cotton candy through the brightly lit midway where the hoots and hollers of children competed with drumbeats and guitar squeals blasting from roof-high speakers.

Suddenly, the screams of excitement drifting from the Wacky Worm turned to shrills of terror. Several cars on the roller coaster plunged into a nine-foot gap where a section of track collapsed.

Nineteen riders, including several small children, were injured and taken to an emergency room.

Sigman was riding in one of the front cars with her then-5-year-old daughter. The track collapsed a fraction of a second after they crossed it. “Somebody could have been killed,” Sigman said. “I used to like the rides. After that, I was leery.”

The Post and Courier explained that the accident exposed a gap in the state’s amusement ride safety law: State ride inspectors did not inspect the Wacky Worm when the portable ride was assembled for the Coastal Carolina Fair, which drew nearly 250,000 people last year. That’s because the state inspection occurred nearly a month earlier, when the ride was assembled for a fair in Florence.

Reviewing reams of records under South Carolina’s public records law, the newspaper identified a major hole in state law: Rides such as the Wacky Worm need only one state inspection a year, even though they are subjected to a grueling tour schedule in which they are repeatedly operated, taken apart, transported and reassembled as they move from town to town.

An examination by the Post and Courier of state amusement ride investigation records found that the once-a-year state inspections routinely discover serious safety violations, including rides with cracked structural welds, exposed electrical wiring, missing or broken seat restraints, loose or missing hardware, fluid leaks and other dangers.

Two fascinating series, each the product of a reporter or editor wondering, “Why?”

In the next few columns, Joel Campbell, SPJ’s Freedom of Information co-chairman, and I hope to introduce you to new ways of thinking about records, about incorporating FOI throughout your newsroom, and about new ways to see stories in the everyday occurrences of life -Ð like that little carnival in the shopping center parking lot.

Back in South Carolina, legislation filed in December aims to make those rides inspected at each carnival stop, instead of annually. That’s journalism making a difference, thanks to FOI.

Charles Davis, co-chairman of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee, is the executive director of the Freedom of Information Center at University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Copyright © 1996-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ