Family plans to file lawsuit after Jacksonville fair ride malfunctions

Several riders injured when Sky Flyer malfunctioned, fair officials say

By Erik Avanier - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As state investigators continue to look into the cause of a ride malfunction that happened during the final weekend of the 2018 Jacksonville Fair, another family has come forward to announce that it plans to file a lawsuit against the Greater Jacksonville Fair Association. 

Officials with the Jacksonville Fair said 20 people were on the Sky Flyer ride Saturday when it malfunctioned, injuring some of the riders. 

Shawn Hall told News4Jax on Monday that his 9-year-old daughter was among the injured riders and he now plans to file a lawsuit against the Greater Jacksonville Fair Association. 

"They were screaming and people were going crazy," he said of the mayhem that unfolded Saturday at the fairgrounds downtown. 

On the Sky Flyer, passengers sit in swings, held by cables, that spin around in a circle.

Hall said his daughter was not only on the Sky Flyer when it malfunctioned, but was the first rider to collide into guard rails before colliding into other riders. He said, prior to the collision, the ride had just started to speed up but never gained elevation. 

"When I started hearing the clicks, the seats started hitting the rails and once they started hitting the rails, they started banging into each other while it was spinning," he recounted. "She swung around and hit somebody else. Then she swung around and hit another rail."

Hall said the ride operator realized something was wrong, so he appeared to cut the power but the riders were still in perpetual motion as they kept colliding into each other. 

"(I'm thinking), 'Get my child off that machine,'" he said. 

Hall then sprang into action with other fairgoers. 

"I ran up and grabbed her seat and when I grabbed her seat, it stopped," he said. "Everybody scrambled to try and stop it.”

Afterward, Hall took his daughter to the hospital to be treated for leg injuries that he described as "bruises and abrasions on her knee and a deep bruise on her thigh.”

Parents of two other children injured on the same ride have already said they plan to seek legal action. 

Lakeria Finley said her 10-year-old daughter, Ka-Morah, was hospitalized after the incident. 

"She has a broken rib on her left side as well as a collapsed lung and it hurts for my baby to inhale and exhale," Finley told News4Jax on Saturday. 

Finley said she and the mother of Ka-Morah's 9-year-old cousin, who was also injured, have contacted an attorney. 

What caused the Sky Flyer to malfunction is unclear, but according to Gay Hart, vice president of marketing for the Jacksonville Fair, the so-called AK ride is from the Czech Republic and was built in 2015.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, state inspectors and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are involved in the investigation into the cause of the ride malfunction.

Though all the rides at the fairgrounds had been taken down as of Monday, Hall said that the rides need to be replaced before next year's fair to prevent another injury.

"After so many years of and so many times of being taken down and put back up, they should be decommissioned," Hall said. "I don't wish that on no parent to see their child going through that. No parent. It's horrifying."

News4Jax attempted to call fair executives and the company that owns and operates the Sky Flyer, but because of the Veterans Day holiday Monday, no one was in the offices to receive the phone calls. 

Saturday was the first time in recent history that a ride malfunctioned at the Jacksonville Fair and caused multiple injuries.

Several years ago, in the United Kingdom, a ride identical to the Sky Flyer reportedly malfunctioned in Cardiff, Wales, during a winter festival, and some of the riders collided into each other. It happened while the ride was nearly 200 feet in the air. 

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