Saturday, May 17, 2008

Carnival Ride Collapses, Injuring Dozens

State accident investigators were trying to determine what caused a Calaveras County Fair carnival ride to collapse and injure all 24 people on board.

The ride, called the Yo-Yo, collapsed shortly after 6 p.m. Friday at the fair, which features the famous Jumping Frog Jubilee. The event is held just outside the Gold Rush-era town of Angels Camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Three were airlifted to hospitals in Modesto and Sacramento, but the extent of the injuries was not immediately known, said Sgt. Dave Seawell, a spokesman for the Calaveras County Sheriff's Department.

Most of the riders were children, and all suffered some form of injury, he said.

The fair remained open after the accident, but the carnival area had been shut down, said Laurie Giannini, the fairground's marketing director. She said there were no fatalities and that riders with minor injuries had been treated.

The ride has metal arms, each with a seat at the end attached by a chain, that swing outward as the ride picks up speed. The arms rise and fall as they spin around a center pole, putting the seats horizontal to the ground.

The pole apparently collapsed, causing the arms to crash back toward the center, said Dennis Townsend, a chief in the Calaveras County unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

"The mechanism that lifts the people is the one that collapsed," he said.

The riders were hurt when their seats struck the ground or other parts of the machine, he said.

"I was buying cotton candy and the arms collapsed, but it was still spinning," Cole Sirius, 13, told the Stockton Record.

Another witness told the newspaper she saw the ride operator struggling to stop the machine. Melissa Hall, 17, said she had been at the far all day and thought the ride was functioning poorly in the morning.

"It didn't rise all the way," she said of the arms.

Authorities could not immediately determine what might have caused the accident.

"We don't know, and nobody at the scene has been able to make a competent determination as to why," Townsend said.

The three victims who had been airlifted were taken to the University of California, Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Doctor's Hospital in Modesto and Modesto Memorial North Hospital.

A spokeswoman at UC Davis Medical Center said she could provide no information without a patient's name. Memorial North Hospital would say only that it had received one victim who was in stable condition.

Doctor's Hospital received a female patient with minor injuries, nursing supervisor Robert Norton said.

Gail Witzlsteiner, a spokeswoman for Sonora Regional Medical Center in Sonora, said five teenagers - four girls and a boy ranging in age from 13 to 18 - were treated for minor injuries.

Mark Twain Hospital in San Andreas was caring for five patients, said Jessica Norris, an emergency room clerk. Three arrived by ambulance and two came in on their own. Most complained of knee pain.

The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee opened Wednesday and is held each year in late May. It was inspired by a Mark Twain story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," which focuses on a character and his jumping frog, named Dan'l Webster.

Last year's jumping frog contest drew 4,000 entries. This year's final is scheduled for Sunday.

Speaking of children...
Minister Caught in Sex Sting
As if the polygamist sect wasn't good enough for Texas...

A minister from a Dallas-area Baptist megachurch was caught in an Internet sex sting and charged with online solicitation of a minor, police said Friday.

Undercover officers posing as a 13-year-old girl communicated with Joe Barron, 52, of Plano for about two weeks. The online conversations were sexual in nature, police said.

On May 6, Barron suggested meeting the girl in person. He eventually made the nearly 200-mile drive to Bryan on Thursday, when he was arrested. Police said they found a web-cam and condoms in his car.

Barron was released Friday night from the Brazos County Jail on bond. Police were unsure whether he had an attorney.

Barron is one of 40 ministers at Prestonwood Baptist Church, one of the largest churches in the country with 26,000 members. He ministers to married adults.

Mike Buster, executive pastor, said in a statement that the church had no record or knowledge of previous improprieties or saw any inappropriate behavior in the 18 months Barron was on the church staff.

Buster said church officials are fully cooperating with police.

"We are disturbed and saddened by the reports we have heard and we are praying for the Barron family," he said.

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