Safety inspections of roller coaster questioned after man's fatal fall

March 22, 2011 4:08:17 PM PDT
It's been two days since a man plunged to his death at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. We still have more questions than answers, but we did get some new information about the roller coaster and we talked to another person who was concerned about its safety. Eyewitness News has learned that this is the first time this year the roller coaster in question has been in use. The last time it was in use was October 2010 at the Arizona State Fair.

After our story aired Monday, we received several emails from viewers who rode that same roller coaster. They all expressed similar concerns about safety. On Tuesday the roller coaster underwent further testing in an attempt to determine what went wrong.

Sabrina Parga says the bruise on her left arm came from the same rodeo carnival ride from which Brian Greenhouse, 47, fell nearly 30 feet to his death Sunday night. She rode the Hi-Miler roller coaster with her five-year-old daughter.

"I noticed that whenever we made those dips, we kind of raised off the seat, so I kind of had to hold her and hold the bar at the same time because there was a lot of shaking," Parga said. "As we made those sharp turns, it would quickly jolt us to the side."

Rodeo officials and RCS, the company that owns and operates the ride, maintain all safety mechanisms were working properly right after the accident. Yet, Greenhouse, a 5-foot-8 inch, 250 pound man, somehow managed to fall out.

While the Hi-Miler has undergone several tests since the accident and no malfunctions were found, it raises the question, do the testing procedures used by their safety experts go far enough? In the tests that have been done so far, the cars have remained static.

We asked, "Don't the physics and the velocity of it all change when you have a body in there and it's going at a certain speed?"

Leroy Shafer, Chief Operating Officer of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, responded, "If you have a body in there, the car is not going to expand. No, it cannot. That pin is there."

According to the operator's website, "RCS performs daily computerized ride equipment inspections using automated maintenance management software."

Parga believes maybe it's time for them to change.

She said, "I couldn't imagine a grown man falling off and this is a ride intended for kids. So it just makes me think, had I not held onto her what might have possibly happened to her."

The attorney representing the Greenhouse family hired an inspector. That inspector was on the site Tuesday afternoon and requested to ride the roller coaster as part of the inspection process. We're told both rodeo and RCS officials have complied. The rodeo also has a production crew taping that inspection.