MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — State officials say they are looking into an incident that a mother of four says left her injured over the weekend at the Manatee County Fair. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services Bureau of Fair Rides and Inspections has launched an investigation.
Marylola Hepp says she was riding the Ring of Fire at the Manatee County Fair when she slid out from under the safety bar. The ride was upside down when Hepp says she found herself pressed against a plexiglass-like barrier in the front row seat.
Hepp was on the ride with her 10-year-old nephew.
“The only thing that I could do is just hold onto my nephew because literally right next to me – it just kept going around and around,” Hepp said. “We were screaming and this guy is not paying any attention to us. There was a point where it goes up and it just stops for a second and I am laying on the plexiglass thinking, ‘this is it, I am going to die.'”
Justin Morgan was standing nearby when the incident happened.
“All I noticed was a lady fall into the cage and I heard a scream like she was having a baby. It was so loud but so painful and I looked up and all you see is her yelling ‘stop the ride, stop the ride,'” Morgan recalled.
Morgan immediately spoke up trying to get the operator to hit the brakes on the ride. He then ran to the fair’s main office to get help.
“I am a human being. If you see something like that, you don’t have to be friends with that person, you want to help them,” said Morgan.
The mother of four went to the hospital following the frightening ride. She says doctors believe there could be damage to her sciatic nerve.
“My shoulders, my arms, my ribs, my head – like everything is just sore. I felt like I just worked out my entire body,” said Hepp.
She tells 8 On Your Side she was frustrated to learn the ride is still operating.
“I came out of your equipment that you told me was safe and if it is not safe then you should shut it down,” said the Ellenton woman.
8 On Your Side called and emailed the ride’s ownership company Tuesday for comment. Belle City Amusements is based out of Deltona, Florida. As of 6 o’clock Tuesday evening, we haven’t received a response back.
Manatee County Fair Manager Danny Alfonso tells 8 On Your Side fair officials take every incident and accusation seriously.
“Any time there is an incident or somebody makes an accusation, we do everything we can to investigate to get to the bottom of it. If there was an issue with that ride, we would’ve had no problem and Belle City would’ve had no problem shutting the ride down, but that is not the case in this situation,” said Alfonso.
The fair manager says state officials have inspected the ride twice.
“Before any of our rides get opened and used, the state does come in and do an inspection,” said Alfonso. “At the time that the initial inspection was done, there was no deficiencies found with the ride and, again, they did another inspection two days ago and there were no deficiencies found with the ride.”
The Bureau Chief of Fair Rides and Inspection for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tells 8 On Your Side, “there are no deficiencies noted in the inspection following the incident, but there is still an ongoing investigation”.
The state also said this incident is the third “reportable accident” for Belle City Amusements in 29 years for all rides. An incident is categorized as a “reportable accident” when someone is transported to the hospital.