CLEVELAND — State regulators issued letters of warning this week to three amusement ride companies after undercover video shot by News 5 Investigators caught ride operators using their cell phones while operating rides at three different Northeast Ohio county fairs in the last two weeks.
According to the letters obtained through a public records request to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the ride operators were operating a ride “in a negligent, and/or careless manner.”
In the letters, David Miran, Chief of ODA’s Amusement Ride Safety Division, warned the companies that future violations of the rules will result in civil penalties against the companies.
“Their job is safety,” said Miran after viewing the videos of ride operators using cell phones while the rides were in motion. “They’re the operators of the ride. They should be focused, all of their attention and energy on that ride.”
In just a few hours at the Lake County, Medina County and Summit County Fairs, News 5 Investigators recorded videos of 13 different ride operators using phones behind the controls.
“Does it concern you how easy it was for us to find this,” News 5 Investigators asked Miran.
“I think anytime, whether it’s one time or ten times, it’s concerning,” said Miran.
Fair-goers who watched the videos were upset by what they saw.
“That’s so dangerous,” said Abbie Thomas from Brunswick.
“I don’t want my kids going on rides that,” said Amanda Salay from Medina. “It puts them in danger.”
In one case, the operator of a merry-go-round at the Summit County Fair was recorded several times using his phone.
At one point, the worker even appeared to take a selfie as the ride full of kids twirled past.
His boss said there’s no excuse for what we found that day.
“You know better,” said RJ Lisko, a manager with Lisko Family Midway Amusements. “You’re an adult. Take responsibility for yourself, plain and simple.”
Lisko said all operators are told phones are only to be used in emergencies.
But we found seven of the company's ride operators using their phones on the job.
Lisko said the company knows it has to do better.
“We’re going to issue an overall warning, and they’ll get one correction,” said Lisko. “And after that, termination.”
And Lisko won’t be the only one watching.
“Thank you for showing this to us,” said Miran. “Without that information, we would not be able to address these situations.”
When contacted by phone, Eric Bates, owner of Bates Brothers Amusement Company, which operated the rides at the Medina County Fairs, said he didn’t want to talk to us and hung up the phone.
Nick Kissel, manager for Kissel Amusement Company, which operated at the Lake County Fair, said the company has a strict no cell phone policy and that it won't happen again. Then he said he appreciated us sending the pictures so they could learn from their mistakes.
Kissel also questioned why we didn’t immediately notify ride managers of what was happening.
News 5 considered his concerns, and, in the future when safety is an issue we will let management know.
Meanwhile, if you witness a ride operator using a cell phone while operating a ride, Miran said you should notify a ride manager and then contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture at either (614) 728-6280 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.