DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –
Many safety inspection reports filled out by the owners and operators of the Sand Blaster roller coaster appear to be missing, while other inspection records are incomplete or were written on forms created for go-karts, documents obtained by News 6 show.
Six passengers were injured, including two who fell from the ride, when the roller coaster at the Daytona Beach Boardwalk derailed on June 14.
One month before the accident, amusement ride inspectors with Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, or FDACS, ordered the attraction to be shut down after finding numerous safety issues, including excessive corrosion, damaged restraint latches and a cracked track, records show.
Just hours before the derailment, the state agency inspected the roller coaster and approved it to reopen.
Newly released records obtained by News 6 show representatives with the ride's owner, Boardwalk Amusement Rides LLC, also certified that the Sand Blaster was in working order the day of the accident.
Daily inspection reports missing
Although FCACS conducts semiannual safety inspections of permanent amusement rides, state law also requires the rides' owners to inspect their rides prior to opening each day of operation.
During those daily inspections, ride owners or their representatives must complete a checklist indicating there are no deficiencies with the ride.
For carnival-type rides like roller coasters, inspection requirements include verifying the ride's structural integrity, pins, bolts, wheels, bearings, brakes, restraints and track.
If problems are found, the owners are required to document the deficiency on the second page of the checklist and specify what corrective action was taken, records show.
Through a public records request, FDACS provided News 6 with copies of the Sand Blaster's daily inspection reports dating back to January 2013.
Noticeably missing from those records were any daily inspection reports during the 10-month period prior to the roller coaster accident.
No reports dated between Aug. 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018 were produced as part of the public records request submitted to FDACS.
When asked why those daily inspection reporters were missing, an FDACS representative suggested the ride's owner did not hand them over as part of the state's investigation into the roller coaster accident.
"The department obtained these records in response to the subpoena we issued, and our investigation is ongoing," said FDACS press secretary Aaron Keller.
Scott A. Shelton, an attorney representing the ride's owner, told a News 6 reporter that he could not speak to the state's record-keeping abilities.
"We have not reviewed the reports you mention completely," said Shelton, "but there were times, during the years you mentioned, the ride was not operating due to scheduled maintenance and repair. That is why some may be missing, but (we) cannot completely comment at this time."
The only daily inspection reports from 2018 provided to News 6 cover the two-week period of June 1 through June 14.
In the first 13 days of that report, the word "closed" is handwritten across the inspection checklist because, at the time, FDACS had not yet approved the Sand Blaster to re-open after failing a May 17 state inspection.
On June 14, the day of the coaster derailment, an unidentified representative of the ride's owner signed off on the daily inspection report indicating there were no deficiencies, records show.
On that same day, a FDACS inspector also indicated there were no problems with the Sand Blaster.
"The operator was running that ride faster than they should have been especially for the conditions," state agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam told News 6 last month.
Putnam, who is seeking the Republican nomination to be Florida's next governor, recently released a preliminary engineering report on the coaster derailment that blamed the accident on excessive speed.
According to that same report, independent engineers found evidence on the coaster's track suggesting the Sand Blaster had derailed several times in the past without being reported to the state.
"They are not the types of things that would've been seen by the naked eye by investigators," Putnam said in response to questions about why his amusement ride inspectors did not find those signs of prior derailments during earlier inspections.
"The state routinely inspected the coaster for both announced and surprised visits, including the morning of the incident, and gave clearance for it to be operated each time," said Shelton.
Inspection reports incomplete or written on incorrect forms
On most of the daily inspection reports provided to News 6, representatives of the Sand Blaster's owner indicated there were no deficiencies with the coaster.
However, on some occasions the owner's inspector placed an "X" next to inspection requirements rather than checkmarks, indicating a possible problem.
In January 2016, daily inspection report records suggest there may have been an issue with the roller coaster's brakes.
Although FDACS requires the owner to document any deficiencies and explain corrective actions on the second page of the form, a copy of that document provided to News 6 is blank.
Based on the owner's daily inspection report, it is unclear whether the Sand Blaster was taken out of service for that apparent brake issue and what may have been done to correct it.
News 6 found several other examples of deficiencies noted in the daily inspection checklist that were not detailed in the report.
On several other reports, the owners' representatives filled out an incorrect form to document the daily inspections.
Rather than using an inspection report for "carnival type" rides, many of the Sand Blaster's inspections appear on paperwork specifically created for "Go-Kart" tracks and vehicles.
Although state law does not specify what constitutes a "carnival type" ride, the statutes define a go-kart as "an amusement ride vehicle controlled or driven by patrons specifically designed for and run on a fixed course."
FDACS's "Go-Kart" checklist includes several inspection requirements that do not apply to roller coasters including "refueling area", "pit area" and "fuel tank leakage".
Likewise, inspection requirements for roller coasters such as "hydraulics/pneumatics", "structural integrity", "electrical" and "controls" do not appear on the "Go-Kart" checklist.
Shelton, the attorney for the Sand Blaster's owner, was not immediately able to explain why the "Go-Kart" form was frequently used to document the roller coaster inspections. He requested more time from News 6 to provide a response for this news story.
Amusement ride owners can download blank inspection report checklists for various types of rides on FDACS's website.