Prior problems with derailed roller coaster not detailed in inspection reports

Ride derailed one month after failed safety inspection

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - One month before the Sandblaster roller coaster derailed and injured six passengers, the attraction on the Daytona Beach Boardwalk failed a state safety inspection.

A News 6 investigation has found that the amusement ride inspector did not take any photographs of defects discovered during that May 17 inspection, nor did the state employee file an in-depth statement detailing the problems that led to the ride being shut down.

Instead, the inspector generated a single-page report that briefly summarized the deficiencies.  

That event report notes that the restraint latches were "damaged/not working," there was "excessive corrosion" impacting the ride's structural integrity and the coaster's bracing and track were "cracked."

According to the report, one of the coaster's seats was "damaged," while two additional ride vehicles had "other" issues that were not specified.

[READ: Lawsuit may be filed after Daytona Beach roller coaster derailment]

The state inspection report provides few other details about the noted deficiencies. It does not specify the size of the crack found on the coaster track or where it was located. The exact parts of the attraction that were corroded are not noted. The report does not provide insight as to which bracing was damaged. The "other" problems with the coaster's vehicles are not defined.

The May 17 event report is signed by the inspector. However, the inspector's name is illegible and it is not printed elsewhere on the document.

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On June 14, the same day the Sandblaster train derailed, the roller coaster "passed" a re-inspection and was authorized to resume operations, records show.

That event report states "deficiencies corrected."  However, it provides no other detail about the work that was done to correct the problems noted during the prior failed inspection.

The time of the follow-up inspection is not noted on the June 14 report, so it is unclear how many hours elapsed between the state inspector approving the Sandblaster for operation and the roller coaster train derailing.

Since a copy of that re-inspection report provided to News 6 does not contain any signatures, it is unclear whether the same state employee conducted both inspections or if different people were involved.

Seeking answers to these and other questions, News 6 submitted a public records request to the agency that conducts amusement ride inspections, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

[READ: 5 things we know about the Daytona Beach roller coaster derailment]

News 6 requested copies of all records related to the May 17 and June 14 inspections of the Sandblaster roller coaster, including any of the inspectors' notes, photographs and reports.

In response, agency spokesperson Aaron Keller told News 6 by email, "There are no additional or supplemental records related to the inspection reports."

News 6 has also requested copies of any emails or written communications between the ride inspectors and the roller coaster's owner, Boardwalk Amusement Rides, LLC. Those records, if they exist, are currently being compiled, according to the agency.

FDACS representatives did not respond to questions from News 6 seeking the identity of the state inspector who conducted the May 17 inspection, nor did it indicate whether the same employee also handled the re-inspection. The agency has also not disclosed whether the inspector or inspectors continue to evaluate other amusement rides while the derailment is under investigation.

Likewise, the agency did not respond to questions inquiring whether or not it was standard practice for ride inspectors to take photographs or produce detailed notes about deficiencies found during inspections.

[RELATED: Derailed roller coaster in Daytona Beach cited for problems in past, report says]

"Our department conducts thorough and detailed inspections of amusement rides, and any issues discovered during an inspection must be corrected by the operator and then verified by our department before the ride opens to the public," said Keller in an emailed statement.  "The department’s investigation to determine the cause of the accident is ongoing, and anyone who should be held accountable will be held accountable."

Adam Putnam, the agency's commissioner who is currently running to become Florida's next Republican governor, made a similar promise to investigate the accident.

"This is an amusement ride that had deficiencies," Putnam said last month during a campaign event.  "Those deficiencies, according to the inspection report, had been corrected and we are investigating that now to determine whether the accident was caused by items that were related to the prior deficiencies or something completely new."

[READ: Attorney: Daytona Beach roller coaster victims may have lifelong injuries]

A FDACS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question from News 6 asking how Putnam's office could make such a determination without photographs or detailed notes documenting the ride's prior deficiencies.

"If the State of Florida is going to assume a duty to ensure the safety of our tourist attractions, then they should do so in a reasonable and prudent manner," said Matt Morgan, an attorney who represents three of the injured roller coaster passengers.

"Documentation related to all identified failed inspections should be kept in the ordinary course of business. The lack of documentation is of concern to my clients," Morgan said.

FDACS is responsible for inspecting all amusement rides in Florida, except for those at large parks such as Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando that have more than 1,000 employees and full-time inspectors on staff, according to the agency's website.
 

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