Carnival injury highlights lack of state safety regulation


Carnival injury highlights lack of state safety regulation

BOZEMAN, Mont. - NBC Montana learned Monday there are few, if any, regulations for carnivals operating in Montana. We dug deeper after a young girl was injured on a carnival ride at the Gallatin County Fair Friday.

13-year-old Melissa Cotton fell to the ground after a bungee trampoline cable reportedly snapped. Doctors say she broke her pelvic bone in the accident.

We looked into rules for carnival rides and operators.

A similar incident occurred at a North Star Amusements run carnival in Riverton, Wyoming, just last year.

It's been difficult to determine which, if any, agencies exist to determine whether or not carnival rides are safe for those who use them.

One website, amusementsafety.org, tracks injuries reported to site managers. It lists state contacts. That led us to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

When we called, we found officials don't know of any Montana state agency that checks the safety of carnival rides or operators. The call to the State led to the Feds.

We checked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and found that no permits, licenses or inspections are required to operate carnival rides in Montana.

The bottom line -- there is no state oversight on carnival rides.

The Gallatin County Fairgrounds selected North Star Amusements for their carnival. We wanted to understand how the board made that decision.

County Fair Board member Lori Cox sent all questions to the Gallatin County Attorney's Office. We called and got no comment. But they did give us a copy of the contract drafted between the county and North Star Amusements.

We read several paragraphs that state North Star agrees all employees will be qualified, skilled and licensed to perform work and services on equipment to keep them in good working order.

They carry $10,000,000 worth of insurance covering bodily injury and property damage.

According to the county's contract, it is a 3-year agreement with North Star Amusement and ends this year.

We've been attempting to contact North Star Amusements for 3 days but they haven't returned our calls.

John Barnes, with the Montana Department of Justice, tells us that at least within the last 10 years, no local authorities have asked the DOJ to assist in investigations into injuries stemming from carnival rides.

We asked people in downtown Bozeman what they think about the apparent lack of carnival ride safety regulations.

Bozeman resident Cheryl Duke said, "I'm really tired of all the regulations, but when it comes to safety or what I'm going to put my kids or grandkids on, the rides, yeah, I think there needs to be some type of regulations or state guidelines."

Out-of-state visitor Liz Mathwig told us, "That actually scares me. I wouldn't want my son to, you know, go on any knowing that there's very few regulations."

People we spoke to say they would like to see an official resource for those who wish to look into the safety records of carnival rides and operators.

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