Different problems stalled roller coaster, records show
Right before launching through the Joker’s Jinx at Six Flags America in April, Julia Valverde quipped to her brother: “Boy, it would be a real shame for a ride like this to stop and break down.”
Moments after the train shot through the start of the purple-and-green roller coaster, it did just that. As Julia was screaming her head off, the car reached the top of a slope, lost momentum and started teetering back and forth before making a full stop.
“After, like, 30 or so seconds, we realized, ‘Oh no. This isn’t part of the ride,’ ” Julia, 15, said.
Julia and her 13-year-old brother, Desi, became part of a second group of Joker’s Jinx riders who had to be rescued from the roller coaster in less than three years.
But it appears two different problems cursed the Joker’s Jinx in April and back in August 2014, when the ride first made headlines for getting stuck and leaving two dozen people stranded for hours several stories in the air.
In April, the tire of a train car separated from the metal hub, causing the Joker’s Jinx to lose momentum at a critical juncture, according to state inspection records and incident reports requested by The Washington Post.
In 2014, a stack of park maps that fell through the slot of a train car and became wedged beneath its wheel was responsible for stopping the roller coaster, records show.
In both incidents, the ride had been recently inspected and was back in operation within days after the problems were fixed, said Rob Gavel, program manager of the state program responsible for ensuring amusement park safety in Maryland.
Gavel said it was an unfortunate coincidence that parkgoers were stranded and twice had to be rescued from the same ride in such a short span.
“The parks work very hard to prevent things like this from happening,” Gavel said. “As with anything in life, things can happen.”
Inspection records that The Post requested for the period from 2014 to 2017 showed inspectors were at the park almost monthly, and there did not appear to be any outstanding problems that were not addressed immediately.
Maryland is one of the first states in the country to create a certified amusement park inspection system with a program that is more than 40 years old, Gavel said. Inspectors check everything from seat belts, sensors and hardware, both before rides are assembled and after they are up and running, Gavel said.
Gavel said the stoppages on the Joker’s Jinx should not deter thrill-seekers from hopping back on after inspectors gave it a thorough review.
“I don’t fear going to a park, and I tell people it’s more dangerous driving to the park than to go into that park,” Gavel said.
Denise Stokes, a spokeswoman for Six Flags America, said she could not speak about the 2014 Joker’s Jinx incident since it was before her tenure with the park. But she did say that company engineers and certified ride technicians “took comprehensive action” to fix the problem found with a train wheel that stalled the ride in April.
“While it looked dangerous, and generated a lot of media interest, this ride stop was actually proof that our ride safety systems were working exactly as they should,” Stokes said in a statement. “All of our rides are engineered to stop safely.”
Stokes said none of the riders was in danger and no one was injured. Inspectors with the state cleared the Joker’s Jinx to be back in service within three days.
“Our rides have hundreds of sensors constantly measuring and watching every aspect of the ride, similar to the sensors in your car that flash an alert if you’ve forgotten to buckle your seat belt or left one of the car doors open,” Stokes said. “The difference is that while you can still drive your car with these alerts on, if a sensor on a ride sends an alert, the ride will automatically shut down in a safe location.”
The state requires amusement parks to be inspected once a year, but Gavel said his division tends to visit parks and Six Flags America regularly to answer any questions or address concerns.
Six Flags, the biggest amusement park in Maryland, generally fixes concerns inspectors have as soon as they are raised, Gavel said.
In 2014, “the bottom of the coaster was vented and the stack of maps fell out and fell under the wheel, causing the train to lose momentum,” Gavel said. “Six Flags took action to plug those holes up.”
In April’s incident, plastic around the wheel designed to give the train a smoother ride separated from the metal hub, a sort of wheel malfunction Gavel said he sees on roller coasters in the state once or twice a year.
Julia and Desi were stuck on the Joker’s Jinx for about two hours before Prince George’s County firefighters in cherry pickers came to help them down.
Julia said her family plans to return to the park with their season passes, but she will avoid the Joker’s Jinx.
Desi, however, is ready for another whirl.
“He’s a daredevil,” Julia said. “He’ll do anything.”
Julia Valverde, 15, and her brother Desi Valverde, 13, were riding the Joker’s Jinx at Six Flags America in April when the ride stalled. They were stuck for two hours before being rescued by firefighters.