A maintenance worker conducting his routine inspections on the Hurricane ride at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition was killed Wednesday, only about 15 minutes before the park was to open.
Those who came out for food and fun were not turned away — the sweet aroma of cotton candy filled the air, the flashing lights pulsated from the rides, and the rock and hip-hop music reverberated across the grounds.
The accident, which left a 23-year-old man dead, happened on a ride in the rear of the fairgrounds. Police blocked off the immediate area surrounding the Hurricane.
Tony Diaz, general manager for North American Midway Entertainment, an Indiana-based company that runs the rides for the Youth Fair, released a statement a few hours after the accident: “Today, prior to our gates opening at 3 p.m., what appears to be a workplace accident occurred involving a ride company employee during the daily ride maintenance inspection. This individual was not an employee of the Miami-Dade Fair & Exposition. Our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers are with individual’s family, co-workers and friends.”
The maintenance worker’s name, or whether he lived locally or traveled with the amusement company, was not released.
“There is no belief at this time that this is anything other than an accident,” said Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Jennifer Capote. Several metal slats on the flooring underneath the ride were out of place Wednesday, but police are not certain whether the operator removed these slats or whether other workers removed them to get to the victim. Detectives are interviewing North American Midway staffers, Capote said.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also is investigating the accident.
The Hurricane, or the KMG Fun Factory, is a 28-ton attraction that has six gondolas that rotate and spin at approximately 18 revolutions-per-minute. The Hurricane is manufactured by KMG in the Netherlands.
The Hurricane is now out of commission while police investigate. The Youth Fair ends its run Sunday night.
Fair-goers seemed unaware that anything had happened; the evening’s regular shows went on as scheduled.
The Youth Fair, the largest of its kind in Florida and located on the grounds next to Florida International University, is open for three weeks every year, and more than 600,000 people pass through its gates.
The fair has been in operation for 65 years. Wednesday’s accident was the first death to occur on the grounds, although there have been previous accidents over the years.
In 2008, a 45-year-old woman was injured when a car on the Convoy tipped over, spilling her to the ground.
In 2004, three people were catapulted from a midway ride at the Youth Fair after a loose bolt on The Gravitron ride caused one of its metal walls to burst open. The three riders were flung from the breach that opened when the ride broke apart. A 16-year-old girl sustained critical head injuries. Two of her friends were treated for injuries while four on the ground suffered minor injuries.
Four years earlier, in 2000, a 14-year-old girl was cut on her face when a metal sign fell from a ride at the Youth Fair.
The most serious accident happened at the Broward County Fair on Thanksgiving Eve, 1988. Christie Schafale, 17, went for a ride on the Monster and was killed when a crack in the machine that had been painted over ruptured. Six others were injured. James E. Strates Shows owned and operated the Broward fair’s midway at the time.
Christie’s death led to a statewide investigation of amusement-ride safety and stringent changes in the inspection system, for permanent and traveling amusement parks.
The state of Florida is responsible for inspections on fairground rides. What this year’s inspection showed wasn’t available Wednesday.
An earlier version of this story included an example video of a Hurricane ride from another venue but the make and model of the ride was different.
Miami Herald staff writer Chuck Rabin contributed to this story. Follow @HowardCohen and @CTeproff on Twitter.