After apparent ride malfunction at fair in Michigan, will fairgoers in Virginia be safe?

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CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Just days after an apparent ride malfunction at the Traverse City National Cherry Festival in Michigan, organizers behind the State Fair of Virginia are doubling down on safety precautions to ensure that the 2021 event in Caroline County is both enjoyable and secure.

The State Fair of Virginia was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the event is set to run from Sept. 24 through Oct. 3 at The Meadow Event Park in Doswell.

“I think not only people, but I think vendors are getting out,” Caroline County Planning & Building Department Building Official Kevin Wightman said. “They’ve missed out, so I think you’re going to see a pack of interest.”

Wightman, who has been with the county for 17 years, told 8News that he has been working with the State Fair of Virginia since it moved to Doswell in 2009. Each year, he works with the ride provider and a third-party inspector to ascertain that attractions are properly permitted and certified.

“Two to three weeks before the first day of the fair, the amusement ride provider will roll in,” Wightman said. “They get their building permit in accordance with the amusement park code through Virginia under the Uniform Statewide Building Code. They give me a list of all of their rides.”

The rides are broken down based on age appropriateness. Wightman said that the types of rides for the 2021 fair have not yet been finalized.

“Prior to opening day, [the third-party inspector] will provide me an inspection report on every ride and certify that it’s ready for operation,” Wightman said. “I’ll review the documents and I’ll go over with [the third-party inspector] what I saw, what my inspectors saw, and make sure that we’re ready to go.”

As rides undergo inspection, Wightman said that safety chains, seatbelts and pins are examined, as well as whether the attraction is level.

“There’s multiple levels of safety factors when you’re setting these up,” Wightman said. “Sometimes, I’ll actually ride them once they’re up.”

state fair of virginia
(File Photo: 8News)

In addition to the work that goes into certifying rides at the State Fair of Virginia for safety ahead of opening day, Wightman said an amusement park inspector is required to be onsite for each day of the fair in Caroline County.

“Every morning, [the inspector] goes through with the checklist and checks all the rides, and then [the inspector] provides that to me,” Wightman said. “We have quite a bit of oversight.”

So, how does something like what occurred in Michigan happen? How can it be prevented in Virginia?

“On the more complex rides, there are annual requirements from the manufacturer,” Wightman said. “Whether that was done up there or not and what their inspection process was, I don’t know.”

However, in Virginia, Wightman said visitors to the State Fair can be confident in the safety of the rides.

“I take my grandkids,” he said. “If I’m putting my grandkids on there, they can rest assured they’re okay.”

The State Fair of Virginia is still in the relatively early stages of planning. But Wightman told 8News that a ride provider has just been selected: Deggeller Attractions.

“They’ve worked the State Fair in the past, and actually, they just worked my county fair about three weeks ago, and I think they brought in a total of 12 rides there,” he said. “We had 12,000 people, which is big for our county fair. We had no issues.”

In addition to safe rides, Wightman said that Virginians who come to the State Fair can look forward to a more condensed layout than what they might’ve seen in years past, cutting down on walking times in the heat.

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