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Less than 90 minutes into opening day of the Sonoma-Marin Fair Wednesday, a carnival worker's leg was severed when he walked into the path of a moving roller coaster filled with young children.

The man's leg was amputated below the knee, witnesses said, when he was struck while standing on the track of the Wacky Worm roller coaster. The name of the man, in his mid-20s from the East Bay, wasn't released.

A Rohnert Park woman who was riding in the first of six compartments on the ride said the man stood on the tracks with his back to the moving ride with a soda in his hands. He fell under the ride after being struck, she said.

The woman, who only wanted her first name, Teresa, used, said she was in the front seat with a 7-year-old relative. Other kids, including her 10-year-old daughter, were in the rear seats.

"I didn't want the kids to see," she said. "I caught a glimpse. It's a situation you hope you're never in and when you're in it, you don't know how to react."

She said the men fell underneath the tracks and the ride rocked back and forth above him.

"I was telling everyone, &‘Don't look, close your eyes.'"

Shortly after the 2:15 p.m. accident, the man was transported by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Petaluma Fire Capt. Jeff Schach said. He was in surgery late Wednesday, but the hospital would not release his condition because of patient privacy rules.

The ride, a figure-eight-style coaster about 12 feet tall, was shut down as medical personnel tended to the man and police secured the scene for investigators from the state department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Witness Mike Krnaich of Santa Rosa said emergency workers wrapped the severed leg in ice and put it in a bucket that went with the man when he was loaded into the ambulance.

"He was just laying there," Krnaich said.

No fair-goers were hurt, and fair representatives stressed that the injury was not the result of an unsafe ride or a machinery malfunction.

"I can tell you, he wasn't following procedure," said Harry Mason, owner of the Oroville-based Midway of Fun carnival company, which runs the fair's 30 rides.

"There is nothing wrong with the machine, there was no operator error. The employee was in a place he shouldn't have been."

"I'm sick. I'm absolutely sick about it," Mason said.

The man, an employee of Midway of Fun for four months, wasn't working on the Wacky Worm, fair spokeswoman Vicki DeArmon said

"He opened a gate and stepped in front of the ride," she said.

The incident is under investigation by Cal-OSHA as an industrial accident, similar to a construction-site accident.

Spokesman Dean Fryer said in a statement issued by the fair that the worker safety agency had "found there were no problems with the ride."

The ride had received a permit in April and the company was operating the coaster within Cal-OSHA requirements. He also said the agency had determined that the injured worker had been properly trained.

"Midway of Fun is one of the larger carnival productions and, given the number of rides and venues, has a good history," Fryer said.

Petaluma Police said that a criminal investigation was not being considered. "We're not aware of any circumstances that would turn this in another direction," police Lt. Matt Stapleton said.

DeArmon said the fair does not have safety concerns about Mason's Midway of Fun company or its rides. "It is one of the safest operations in the state," she said.

The Wacky Worm ride had just passed a state inspection and its safety permit is current, Mason said. The 9-year-old ride was built in El Salvador.

Midway of Fun is in the fourth year of a five-year contract with the Sonoma-Marin Fair.

The company has two incidents on record with the state, one in which the company was cleared of culpability and another in 2009 in which Mason was criticized for failing to maintain a ride.

A California Department of Industrial Relations report found that a small lock-washer on a recently state-inspected Yo-Yo swing ride failed, causing the ride to collapse at the Calaveras County Fair, injuring 21 people.

However, the findings were unclear whether Mason's company, the ride's previous owner or the manufacturer damaged the washer, published reports said.

The Wacky Worm ride, which looks like a long green caterpillar with a cartoon face and antennae on the lead car, doesn't go very fast, Mason said. He called it a "small, family ride."

The ride will be closed during the investigation, while the other carnival rides will remain in operation.

"The fair is continuing," DeArmon said. "We're regretful that this happened, but the fair is going on as usual."

The Wacky Worm is located toward the front of the busy midway area next to a merry-go-round and Super Slide, and many fair-goers were unaware Wednesday of the accident that occurred nearby.

The five-day fair attracts about 65,000 patrons a year, DeArmon said.

The midway rides generate money to fund the rest of the fair's exhibits, activities and livestock-showing prizes.

"The fair is very safe," said fair chief Pat Conklin. "By all indications, it was a carnival worker's misjudgment. We take pride in being a safe event."

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