State revokes permit for Port Townsend amusement ride after accident sent 3 to hospital

SEATTLE – The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries revoked the permit for an amusement ride that malfunctioned and injured several people.

State officials took action after a Ferris wheel in Port Townsend that injured several people during the Rhododendron Festival.

An attorney representing another family who was on the same ride told Q13 News a total of five people were injured when one of the carts flipped. Port Townsend police said three were taken to hospitals after the accident.

Two women and a 7-year-old boy were rushed to local hospitals: One, a 59-year-old woman, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. On Friday she was listed in serious but stable condition with non-life threatening injuries.

Q13 News dug into the company that operates the Ferris wheel and discovered Thursday’s incident wasn’t the first time one of Funstastic Rides Company’s amusements hurt someone.

“This is pretty scary thing,” said William Cartmel of Port Townsend.

Many in Jefferson County were still in shock one day after a freak accident tossed three people riding a Ferris wheel 15 to 18 feet to the ground.

“We saw one of the buckets was stuck,” said fair-goer Lassaad Boussaa, who spent Thursday at the festival with his children.

“It’s risky honestly today,” he said. “I’m not thinking to come back here with the kids.”

Yellow tape surrounded the ride. Friday morning crews could be seen inspecting the ride.

“He’s inspecting the ride to see if there is any issues with it,” said Port Townsend Police Sgt. Troy Surber. “He’s cycling it to each gondola to see if there is any issues with the doors or anything like that.”

A company employee told a piece of debris tangled in the machinery could be to blame for the accident.

“It’s usually really, really safe,” said Cartmel. “Funtastic is usually the big event here.”

According to L & I, the Portland-based company that runs the Ferris wheel and other rides across Western Washington has reported accidents in the past; once in 2011 and another in 2009 where a ride toppled over and injured several kids.

State officials said it’s up to Funstastic and all amusement companies to hire a third-party inspector to check out each ride before the state issues a permit for it.

A permit allowed Funtastic to run the ride that injured people on Thursday. The Ferris wheel passed inspection last fall and has a permit to operate until October.

On Friday, L & I sent the company a letter informing the ride’s permit had been revoked.

Now that spring is almost here, more carnivals will be popping up across our region.

For a family’s peace of mind, L & I said, people should look for a decal on the side of each ride that indicates an inspection and valid permit.

Beyond that, it’s up to fair-goers to decide if they trust riding an amusement. But some in Port Townsend wonder how they could feel safe after Thursday’s crash.

“It’s nice for kids but I don’t trust all the system here,” said Boussaa.

“I’ve been coming here for 40 years and to my knowledge this is the first time they’ve ever had an accident,” said Cartmel.

Q13 News spoke with a different amusement ride inspector who said accidents like Thursday’s are very rare – but they can happen due to several issues like operator error, lack of maintenance but also rider behavior.

Q13 News’ repeated messages to Funtastic’s Portland office seeking comment about the incident had not been returned by Friday evening.