State safety officials fine Big Fresno Fair's ride vendor

The Fresno BeeApril 22, 2014 

Butler Amusement's Flying Bobs midway ride.


The company that provides carnival rides to The Big Fresno Fair is facing state fines of more than $100,000 for three safety violations on rides at last October's fair.

Cal/OSHA announced Tuesday that it has fined Butler Amusements a total of $101,250 after an investigation revealed that the company "knowingly conducted rides after key bolts and cross bracing had been removed" from the popular Giant Wheel and Flying Bobs.

A spokeswoman for The Big Fresno Fair said the management was unaware of the fines until Tuesday's announcement by the state's occupational-safety agency.

A confidential tip about safety issues at rides owned by Oregon-based Butler Amusements prompted the investigation. Inspectors from Cal/OSHA reported seeing patrons riding on several compromised attractions. The agency said that the Giant Wheel -- similar to a Ferris wheel -- was missing all 12 bolts that connect support-leg flanges, while the Flying Bobs, which mimics the G-force sensations of a bobsled run, was missing all of the lower cross braces that provide structural support.

"When the imminent hazard was brought to the attention of the representative accompanying the investigator, Butler Amusements voluntarily stopped the rides and the patrons disembarked with no injuries," Cal/OSHA said in its announcement.

"Thankfully these violations were found before anyone was hurt," said Juliann Sum, Cal/OSHA's acting chief. But, she added, "when amusement park machinery is used without strict attention to safety requirements, citations will be issued."

Andrea Owen, marketing manager for Butler Amusements, said the company had no comment Tuesday on Cal/OSHA's announcement.

Butler was cited for "willful serious violations" including failure to maintain the rides according to manufacturers' safety recommendations, failing to properly install all fasteners, and using the rides without the necessary supports. Each violation carried a penalty of $33,750.

"The health and safety of our Big Fresno Fair patrons is our number one priority," said Stacy Rianda, the fair's deputy manager. "The fair values and respects CAL/OSHA and their processes; however, this is the first time we have been notified of any investigation or alleged violations."

Prior to each year's fair, Rianda added, "all rides are inspected by an independent, third party carnival inspection team, Comspeq Consulting Inc., that works year-round inspecting many of the same rides at other fairs throughout the year."

Rianda said that once the fair's management learns more about the facts of the Cal/OSHA citations against Butler, it would determine an appropriate response.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6319, or @TimSheehanNews on Twitter.

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