Carnival accident: State revokes license to operate Phoenix Wheel; carnival set to reopen

By Chris Tucker
Posted 5/18/17

UPDATE: 3:09 p.m.

Funtastic Carnival's license to operate the Phoenix Wheel – more commonly referred to as a Ferris wheel – was revoked Friday by the state Department of Labor & …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Carnival accident: State revokes license to operate Phoenix Wheel; carnival set to reopen


UPDATE: 3:09 p.m.

Funtastic Carnival's license to operate the Phoenix Wheel – more commonly referred to as a Ferris wheel – was revoked Friday by the state Department of Labor & Industries, according to L&I spokesman Matthew Erlich.

All other rides have been inspected and Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley said Friday afternoon that the carnival would be allowed to reopen today.

“A state licensed ride inspector inspected – at our request – inspected all of the rides of Funtastic earlier today and has provided an inspection report indicating they meet all safety requirements,” Morley said.

“We have notified the carnival company that that was a necessary thing in order to re-open the carnival and without it they would not be able to reopen,” Morley said.

By law, the Funtastic Carnival is required to send L&I a report of any incident involving injuries within 24 hours of the incident, Erlich said.

“Because of what occurred [Thursday] we do have the authority to revoke the permit for that ride and we are writing a letter as we speak sending the letter to Funtastic to do that,” said Erlich. “What we will require is that the ride be repaired and inspected before it can operate again,” he said.

Erlich said Richard Spromberg, who The Leader quoted in an earlier report, is certified as a state ride inspector but hired by Funtastic, not an L&I employee.

“Certainly an accident like this is very unfortunate,” Morley said. “Nobody wants to see something like that happen to anyone, nor should it. That’s why we insisted on an inspection of all the rides before they could reopen.”

Ronald E. Burback, president of Funtastic Ride Inc., which operates Funtastic Carnival, wrote in a report today to L&I that “eyewitness accounts at this time seem to suggest something other than equipment failure that attributed to the incident.”

“We know from operator statements that the ride was balanced and operated according to procedure with about 10 people on the ride,” Burback wrote.

“Local police administered Bac [blood alcohol content] to the ride operators and the ride supervisor with a 0.00 reading and with all of the entity's involved in the investigation this could take some time to bring to a conclusion,” Burback wrote.

UPDATE: Noon, Friday, May 19

Washington state ride inspector Richard Spromberg was summoned from Yakima Thursday to Port Townsend on Friday, May 19 to inspect rides at the Funtastic Carnival at Memorial Field after three people fell out of the Ferris wheel shortly after the carnival opened Thursday afternoon for the 82nd Rhododendron Festival.

Spromberg, who works for Funtastic, said the Ferris wheel appeared to be functioning normally, and it seemed that some type of fencing or other foreign object got tangled up in the ride, causing chair No. 2 to tip over and spill out the three people riding it. Their names have not been released.

A 59-year-old woman was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Thursday night with critical but non-life-threatening injuries. Her condition Friday morning was not immediately available.

A 47-year-old woman riding the Ferris wheel with her suffered minor to moderate injuries, while a 7-year-old boy suffered minor injuries, according to East Jefferson Fire Rescue spokesman Bill Beezley. The 47-year-old and the 7-year-old were taken to Jefferson Healthcare.

Spromberg said the Ferris wheel will not be used, but other rides can continue. By 9:30 a.m., Spromberg said he had already inspected half of the carnival rides and was working to inspect the remainder.

“Everything is looking just fine,” he said, adding that Funtastic Carnival has had a good reputation.

“They’re very good operators.”

The riders fell 10 to 15 feet, according to Port Townsend Police Department Sgt. Troy Surber. Surber said he was on scene about three minutes after the accident occurred.

“When I came on scene she was lying face down,” Surber said of one of the oldest victims. “She was on the bottom deck. There was blood about her head … somewhat responsive.”

Surber said a doctor happened to be at the carnival and she attended to the women before medics arrived.

Funtastic manager Keith Ellefson also inspected the Ferris wheel closely on Friday with Spromberg. Ellefson said he could not comment on the incident until the reports had been released.


Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean learned of the accident after receiving a text from her daughter and immediately went to the carnival.

“I got down here very quickly … I stayed for a few hours with first responders. I just wanted to make sure the county had a presence,” said Dean. Memorial Field is owned by the county but is within City of Port Townsend limits.

Dean said the scene after the accident was “a little surreal because the show went on.”

“The county is very concerned about the wellbeing of the injured passengers,” Dean said.

“Our thoughts are with the families right now. We are also very concerned about the safety of the rides going into the weekend ahead,” she said, adding that the county owns the field and is therefore concerned about safety and liability.

“The inspector assures us that Funtastic has a great reputation but we are committed to doing our due diligence,” Dean said.

“My kids will be begging me to come down here tonight so I am just as concerned as other families that these have been looked over in light of last nights accident.

“We’re listed as an additionally insured on Funtastic’s insurance but of course there’s always the concern that we would be named in a lawsuit. It’s a very real concern. We’re working with the state risk pool right now, covering our bases,” Dean acknowledged.

A 59-year-old woman was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with critical but non-life-threatening injuries, and two others were taken to Jefferson Healthcare Thursday, May 18, after falling 15 to 20 feet out of a cart on the Ferris wheel at the Funtastic Carnival at Memorial Field in Port Townsend.

East Jefferson Fire Rescue Public Information Officer Bill Beezley said the Ferris wheel was shut down and cordoned off, and Port Townsend police officers are to remain on the scene throughout the night.

The state Department of Labor and Industries is to expected to arrive Friday morning, May 19, to investigate the accident, Beezley said.

Other rides were not shut down after the accident, which occurred about an hour and 45 minutes after the carnival opened at 4 p.m. for the Rhododendron Festival.

In addition to the 59-year-old woman, a 47-year-old woman suffered what Beezley said he thought were minor to moderate injuries, while a 7-year-old boy suffered minor injuries. Beezley did not know if the three were related, or if they were all from Jefferson County. Both the 47-year-old woman and the boy were taken to Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend, Beezley said.

“We don't know if it's a mechanical issue,” Beezley said.

When the three fell, “one of them lightly clipped a 30-year-old man on the way down,” Beezley said, but the man declined medical attention.

“They landed on the metal floor at the base of the Ferris wheel, with the older woman taking the brunt of the fall. The others may have landed on her,” Beezley said.

Beezley said posting officers at the scene was intended to ensure the area was protected.

He added fire officials had looked at the grounds earlier in the day to ensure that they were in good condition, but noted that the fire department did not sign off on the rides.

Talking to one Rhody organizer who had been attending Rhody Festivals for 40 years, Beezley said, “She couldn't remember another incident like this.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment