This week we learned of two state sanctions related to two high-profile amusement ride fatalities this summer: the death of three year old Jason Dansby while riding the Python Pit roller coaster at Go Bananas family entertainment center in Illinois and the death of Sgt. James Hackemer while riding the Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake. While the cases are quite similar in many respects, the sanctions imposed are quite different. With respect to Go Bananas, the owner of the facility has been charged criminally with violation of the state’s amusement ride safety law and faces a potential jail term of up to a year and / or a fine of up to $2,500 while in the case of Darien Lake no criminal charges were filed and the facility was merely ordered to re-train ride operators and post better signage warning guests about ride safety requirements.
So why the difference? After all, Illinois and New York have similar ride safety laws (at least in this respect) and these two cases were quite similar in both the severity of the event and the conclusions reached by the state following the investigation. It could reasonably be expected, therefore, that these states would impose similar sanctions or at least similarly serious sanctions at the end of the investigations. After all, in a court of law similar cases tend to be treated similarly. But these cases clearly weren't treated similarly. Why not? Was it that the state found one facility or ride to be “less safe” than the other? Was it that the state found one operator better than the other? I think the answer to both these questions, at least on the state of the current record, is no. Rather, I think its likely that the difference in legal sanctions in these two cases can be attributed, as much as anything else, to political pressure exerted on state officials.