The Fireball, one of Amusement of America’s most popular thrill rides, won’t be featured this year during the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair. After a fatal accident at the Ohio State Fair in July, the company pulled the ride from its lineup. However, officials from both the Statesboro Kiwanis Club and Amusements of America assure a safe and well-inspected midway at the upcoming week-long event.
The 56th annual, seven-county agricultural fair opens for six days starting Monday.
Tragedy struck the Ohio State Fair July 26 when corrosion caused the popular ride to break, killing 18-year-old Tyler Jarriel and seriously injuring several others. According to a CBS report, ride manufacturer KMG International, based in the Netherlands, issued a statement claiming "excessive corrosion" found on the inside of the gondola support beam, wearing the beam down over a period of years, caused it to break.
Amusements of America owns the midway featured at the Ohio State Fair, and has also provided the Statesboro Kiwanis Club with a family-oriented midway for over 30 years.
Company owner and spokesman Robbie Vivona said the Annual Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair rides are completely safe.
The Ohio tragedy “was not something we could control,” he said. “But, we have and will go above and beyond to test and check all the rides.”
Additional checkpoints and inspection procedures were added after the fatal accident in July. In addition to the Vivonas conducting safety checks, the fair’s midway must also pass state inspection he said.
Alex Grovenstein, immediate past president of the Statesboro Kiwanis Club, said he and the club have full confidence in Amusements of America’s safety measures.
“We have had a relationship with Amusements of America for years,” he said. “We have never had a problem with safety of the rides.”
The Vivona family, comprised originally of five brothers including Robbie’s uncle Dominic Vivona, have worked with Kiwanis for decades and have said Statesboro is one of the company’s favorite places to visit. Each year Dominic Vivona, his wife Helene and several of his family members spend the week at the fairgrounds and are treated as guests by the club, not just contracted partners.
Club members have historically provided dental, health and other care and services for carnival workers, and on Thursdays during fair week, the carnival employees provide lunch for the club’s weekly meeting.
“We put our trust in Amusement of America,” Grovenstein said. “They bring us a safe, well-maintained midway, and always have.”
Robbie Vivona said the Fireball was retired from the company’s bevy of major thrill rides due to the fatal accident, but assured fair enthusiasts there will be new rides to take its place.
Attractions including the “Free Fall,” “Hurricane,” “Polar Express” and “Firestorm” will fill the midway, along with other popular rides, he said.
Grovenstein said rides are inspected daily, if not even more often, by midway operators. State inspectors also make their rounds.
“We ride these rides, put our own kids on these rides,” he said. The tragedy in Ohio “is unfortunate,” but club members remain confident on the midway's safety.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.