Dif­fer­ent prob­lems stalled roller coaster, records show

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY LYNH BUI lynh.bui@wash­post.com

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.”

PETE MUNTEAN/WUSA

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.

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