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State fairgoers not too worried about ride accident, injuries

State inspectors on Thursday were investigating a Midway ride malfunction at the S.C. State Fair on Wednesday that left six people with minor injuries after a metal sealing broke loose, flew into the crowd and hit bystanders.

It remains uncertain whether the Banzai ride will reopen until the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which oversees amusement rides, can complete its investigation.

The State Fair immediately closed the ride after the incident, shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday, the fair's opening day.

"There is a natural anticipation in such instances about when a ride will reopen," said State Fair manager Gary Goodman. LLR has the final say as to when that will happen, he said.

LLR administrator Duane Scott said the agency can't comment on Wednesday's incident or any findings until the investigation is complete, and he doesn't know when that will be.

The six people injured Wednesday ranged from 6 to 20 years old. Five suffered minor cuts, and one had a bruised shoulder. All were treated at the fair's first aid station; none required a hospital visit.

The incident has left some people skittish about ride safety, with many voicing a mistrust of fair rides on message boards and social media sites. But the overriding tone among fair patrons Thursday was considerably more tempered.

"There is always the possibility of an accident, whether we are riding rides are walking across the street," said Columbia's Darryl Humphries, who watched as his two children ran from the Rockin'Tug to board the bumper cars.

Humphries said the Wednesday incident had not shaken his confidence in the safety of the rides.

"I do think they exhaust all measures so that all rides are safe and fit to ride," he said.

Thomas Bouknight of Fairfield, who works in maintenance, had not heard about the incident before Thursday but said he didn't plan to keep his five children off the rides.

"Stuff is going to happen," Bouknight said. "I know they inspect, but they can't prevent every incident."

Many in online chat rooms and social sites, however, have not been as charitable. Some say the recent incident strengthens their belief that fair rides are not safe and say they will avoid them. Others expressed concerns about the short time period in which the rides are erected and question the efficiency of the inspections.

While the Banzai remained motionless Thursday morning, a group of teenagers prepared to enter the Polar Express ride.

Sixteen-year-old Vinson Hyman said while he's confident the proper steps will be taken before the Banzai reopens, he would probably avoid that ride if it opened again.

"All the others, I'll ride," he said.

Earlier this summer, state labor officials announced they were changing the way rides are inspected. Rather than state workers performing the work, specially licensed outside contractors now review the state's rides and thousands of elevators, but state LLR auditors randomly review those contractors' work.

The South Carolina State Fair has enjoyed a strong history of ride safety through the years, having never experienced a fatality.

Goodman said he can't recall any rider ever suffering a life-threatening injury in his 27 years as fair manger.

"The least of my worries is when the ride opens again," he said. "Safety is our primary concern."

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