Meeker Days Festival zip line accident investigation could take months

The HERALDJune 26, 2014 

The operating permit for the zip line amusement ride that was at the center of an accident during the 75th annual Meeker Days Festival on June 21 has been revoked, according to Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

The department’s amusement ride certification program took the action as it continues to investigate the incident that injured a 42-year-old female. The woman was rushed to the hospital and later released.

“The goal of the investigation is to see what went wrong, what happened, see if any violations were made and see how this can be prevented in the future,” Church said.

Church said Labor and Industries would not release any specific findings or details in the investigation.

The cause of the accident was initially reported in a Puyallup Police Department press release as a mechanical failure of the winch that keeps the line tight. The zip line operator Clowns Unlimited said the woman was about a quarter of the way down the zip line when the winch apparently failed. This failure dropped both the cable and the woman to the ground.

Church said following the accident that occurred at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 21 the zip line was shut down. Clowns Unlimited cannot operate the zip line until the ride has been repermitted, he said.

“For it to be repermitted, they would need an inspection by a third party inspector,” Church explained. “(Clowns Unlimited) would need to show that they have done something to meet safety standards and inspections, and that they have insurance for that ride.”

The ongoing investigation will take weeks, maybe months, Church said.

“We’re just in the very beginning of that investigation,” he said. “It’s about asking questions and taking in information.”

Meanwhile, the accident that occurred at 12:30 p.m. on that same day involving an amusement train ride is under investigation by the Puyallup Police Department.

The train, also operated by Clowns Unlimited, tipped over after coming out of a turn on the public roadway in downtown Puyallup. Four children and two adults were injured. An 8-year-old boy transported to the hospital has since been released.

Captain Scott Engle of the Puyallup Police Department said the driver of the train — an employee of Clowns Unlimited — will be cited a $124 traffic infraction for driving an unauthorized vehicle on a public roadway.

“Clowns Unlimited were aware of having the train out on the public roadway,” Engle said. “They were very helpful and acknowledged there was a problem. For us, it was nice to see a company actively cooperating and assisting officers in the investigations.”

Following the accident, the train ride was taken out of service for the remainder of the weekend festival, according to Engle.

Police report that the train may have been overloaded.

In an earlier report by The News Tribune, Clowns Unlimited general manager Lance Salisbury said the company plans to require a weight limit for the ride.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and individuals involved in the accident on Saturday,” Salisbury said in a statement. “These were isolated incidents for both the circus train and the zip line. Safety of our employees, customers and general public has always been our top priority.”

A police report stated Clowns Unlimited has provided amusement ride services for the past 15 years at the Meeker Days Festival. The two accidents Saturday were unprecedented.

Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001

Twitter: @herald_andrew

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