WESTFORD (CBS) – A Westford family is calling for new safety regulations after they say their daughter suffered a debilitating injury on a popular carnival ride.
It happened last May at the Apple Blossom Festival in Westford. Eleven-year-old Ava Janko went on the carnival ride the zipper with a friend, but midway through something went wrong.
Ava tells the I-Team she passed out. “There was a little cage and you had to hold on to it,” she said.
Unconscious, Ava says when she came to, her arms were by her side, no longer holding on. And, when she tried to get off the ride, she couldn’t walk. Ava told her mom she couldn’t feel her legs. At first the family thought it was just the excitement from the ride that cause her to be unsteady on her feet. But Ava didn’t immediately improve.
While doctors don’t know why or what caused her to lose consciousness, they did learn why she couldn’t walk. Tests done at Boston Children’s Hospital revealed Ava suffered a mild traumatic brain injury called functional neurological disorder. “The message from her brain wasn’t getting to her nervous system so she couldn’t feel her legs,” her mom, Karen explained.
Ava’s family says her brain got injured when she passed out and without being able to hold on to the ride, her head was snapping back and forth as the zipper was spinning around.
Karen Janko believes her injury could have been prevented. “Anything with centrifugal force should have a safety restraint that keeps you connected to the seat,” she said.
Massachusetts law does not require that rides have safety belts. The zipper does have a lap bar and bars to hang on to. In Ava’s case that didn’t help because she let go of the bars when she lost consciousness
Amusement device owners are only required to report serious injuries to the State Office of Public Safety and Inspections. It says traveling amusement carnivals have reported a total of eight injuries in the last five years.
The I-Team has learned the carnival owner, Fiesta Shows, did not report Ava’s accident to the state, telling inspectors it was not aware of the incident. And because the state does not consider Ava’s brain injury to be serious, Fiesta was not required to report it.
As for the ride itself, records show the zipper Ava was on passed a state inspection two days earlier.
In 2016, at an Amusement Industry trade show, an upgraded zipper ride car was unveiled that was equipped with a heavy duty safety harness that it says can also be retrofitted on older models. A spokesperson in a video says: “It has a more secure feeling,” for passengers.
Westford State Representative James Arciero, says after hearing about Ava’s accident, it’s time to start a conversation about enhancing public safety on carnival rides. Arciero is now proposing legislation to require all amusement rides have passenger safety restraining systems in place that secure passengers to the interior of the amusement device’s carriage or car. Telling the I-Team, the state made changes to carnival safety after there was a fatality in Shrewsbury in 2004. He believes in 2019 it’s time to take another look.
Hearings on his proposed law begin this fall. Meantime, Ava, who has fully recovered, says her injury could have been prevented and plans to testify at the hearings on the bill at the state house. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I don’t want this to happen to anyone (else),” she said.
Fiesta Shows did not respond to our requests for comment. But WBZ did get a statement from the New England Amusement Parks and Attractions Association. It said the proposed legislation is unnecessary and the amusement device owners are meeting today’s safety standards.