Could that happen here? It’s a thought that was probably running through the minds of a lot of residents who frequent Six Flags Great America in Gurnee following the frightening death Friday of a woman who fell from a towering roller coaster at Six Flags Over Texas in suburban Dallas.
“Of course it gives you pause,” said Gurnee Mayor Krysti Kovarik. “The first thing I thought of is that poor family, it’s a terrible tragedy. But I was glad it’s not our park.”
Kovarik stressed that she has complete confidence that safety is the top priority at Great America, and that she and the village are in frequent and close contact with the park’s general manager, even though the state is the main regulator of the park.
“Safety is the first priority. We see this especially working with them in the off-season,” she said. “And I know Six Flags does inspections every day before it opens.”
Kovarik noted that ride tragedies make for big news headlines, but are very rare when compared to the number of people who daily ride the attractions locally and across the country.
“Thirty to forty thousand people a day here go on the rides (at Great America) and there are very few injuries. I know they take it very seriously and do their due diligence,” she said.
A Great America spokeswoman said Tuesday that safety is the paramount objective.
“The safety of our guests and employees is our top priority. We invest the greatest amount of resources in our safety and maintenance programs,” said Katy Enrique, communications manager for Six Flags Great America. “In addition to our daily inspections, all of our rides are inspected at least annually by a third party independent ride consulting firm, by state ride inspectors, by insurance inspectors, by corporate engineers and by corporate safety experts. All of our ride operations meet or exceed manufacturer standards.”
According to the Illinois Department of Labor, there were no reported incidents involving rides at the park in 2012, and less than 10 reported from 2007 through 2012.
There were six reported injury complaints in 2007, none in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and one in 2011.
The 2007 incidents included a 12-year-old being transported to the hospital after reportedly being suspended on the King Chaos ride in a position that pressed him against restraints for four minutes.
Two that year involved incidents of riders being transported to the hospital after complaining of pain following “sudden stops” on the Orbit ride. A rider also complained in August of that year that he hit his head on the metal bars of the Orbit, but there were no visible injuries.
A more serious incident occurred in 2000 when Kathryn Konstantaras, then 11 and now 24, lost part of a big toe after it became lodged between a metal floor and the wall of a gravity ride called the Cajun Cliffhanger.
It happened when her father, John Konstantaras, took his two children to Great America for a day at the park.
“I was right next to her. The kids were on either side,” he said, describing a circular ride that spins until gravity holds the riders against its walls and the floor drops down. “The ride slowed down and everybody fell. The next thing it started back up again and her foot got caught. I saw it. She was screaming.”
Konstantaras said it was a long time until rescue workers were able to free her from the ride and transport her to the hospital.
“Everyone was yelling. It was horrible. There was nothing I could do,” he said.
The family received a settlement from the park and after a time, his children did return to amusement parks. Konstantaras said he was not happy with the way Great America handled the incident and its aftermath.
“I know there are cases where people do dumb things. But when you are having a good time and following the rules, and something like that happens, it’s tough.”
Konstantaras said he and his family did a lot of research into ride safety following the incident and he believes regulations have improved significantly since that era.
Kovarik said she feels secure that things are being handled properly in Gurnee.
“There’s always a risk with mechanical equipment,” she said. “But I don’t have any concerns about our Six Flags.”