New Jersey has ordered the shutdown of amusement park rides like the one from which a 10-year-old girl was thrown to her death at a fair in Cumberland County last weekend.
The Xtreme, which is known among the amusement ride world by its manufacturing name the Super Sizzler, was shut down following the death of Hailey Lynn McMullen, a Deerfield Township fifth grader who was ejected from the ride at a fair Saturday. On Thursday, the state announced it had suspended all Sizzler rides in New Jersey while it investigates the girl’s death.
The ride at the Deerfield Township Harvest Festival was the only Super Sizzler issued permits by the state. It is a larger and slightly faster version of the Sizzler. Seven of those operate in the state. All Sizzlers are manufactured and sold by Colorado-based Wisdom Rides.
The Sizzler has been linked to at least four other deaths around the country since 2000. But when operated correctly and patrons follow instructions, “it is one of the safest rides on any midway,” Ken Martin, a Virginia-based safety consultant, told The Inquirer.
An Inquirer review of inspection reports for the Super Sizzler showed it was last inspected in April, its only inspection for the year, a departure from the recent past. The ride had six total inspections during the 2018 season and five in 2017.
For rides that move from festival to festival such as the Super Sizzler, operated by Skelly’s Amusement of Williamstown, Gloucester County, the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Carnival and Amusement Ride Safety Unit usually conducts inspections after assembly. Inspectors often inspect rides while in operation as well, an agency spokesperson said.
The reports showed that in the years where “setup” and “operational” inspections were done, inspections found faulty electrical tubes or a loose lock bolt. Those violations were usually fixed immediately. No such issues were found in 2018.
“While state regulations require an annual inspection for every amusement and carnival ride operating in New Jersey, the regulations do not require setup inspections,” said Lisa Ryan, spokesperson for the DCA. “DCA ride inspectors endeavor to perform as many set up inspections as possible.”
The last fatality from an amusement ride in New Jersey was in 2011, according to statistics provided by the state.
Overall, the number of serious injuries on all rides in the state spiked in 2018 to 76 from six the previous year. State officials say that the increase was a result of a change in state regulations that require that every time a rider is treated by a medical technician or transported to the hospital, the state must mark that as a serious incident. Previously, only cases in which a patron lost consciousness, broke a bone, or received medical treatment beyond first aid were reported as serious, Ryan said.
The only incident recorded for the Super Sizzler since 2013 was in May, when a man had to be treated for an asthma attack after riding.
State police and the DCA are still investigating Saturday’s fatal accident.
The girl was not wearing a seatbelt, which was not required by New Jersey as it is in other states. The Super Sizzler has a lap band that locks in place and as advertised on the manufacturer’s website, “Customers may close the lap bar, but only your operator can open it.”
Following some fatalities in the early 2000s, some states required seatbelts on the Sizzler rides. The manufacturer also recommended in 2007 that all Sizzler operators install belts. The bulletin, however, did not specify whether it was all Sizzler rides or just the basic Sizzler model. The manufacturer has not returned calls seeking comment.
The Sizzler, which is similar to the “Scrambler” and “Twist,” turns in one direction as people sitting in its carriages spin the opposite way.
A spokesperson for Skelly’s Amusement said its Super Sizzler had never been involved in a major incident in 27 years of operations.
In an obituary published Thursday, Hailey’s family described her as an imaginative young girl who loved Jesus, nature, and the people around her.
“She was sassy and did not accept statements like, ‘because I told you so,’ ” the obituary said. “She wanted to know why and wanted to do the right thing even if it was not the popular thing.”
Survivors include her parents, Christopher and Amanda McMullen, and siblings Evan and Allison.
A public visitation was scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Maranatha Baptist Church, 1524 Bridgeton Millville Pike, Millville, N.J. Funeral services will be private.
Christopher McMullen is a sergeant in the Salem Police Department. The Salem Police Officers Association has set up a fund to help the family with funeral expenses. Checks made payable to SPOA or Salem Police Officers Association and with “Hailey McMullen” in the memo line can be mailed to the SPOA at P.O. Box 62, Salem, NJ 08079.