WATERVILLE — A woman was injured Saturday afternoon in a swing ride accident during a carnival at the Head of Falls park, less than 24 hours after three children were injured in a roller coaster ride malfunction at the same carnival, which is operated by Smokey’s Greater Shows.

The accidents have renewed concerns about the safety of amusement rides in Maine. Last fall, a 17-year-old girl was killed when a wagon full of passengers crashed on a hayride in Mechanic Falls. And with summer at hand, a full slate of festivals, most with amusement rides, is on tap in Maine. This weekend’s Old Port Festival in Portland includes a Ferris wheel on the waterfront operated by Smokey’s.

Despite the pair of accidents, officials said the other rides at the Waterville carnival would remain open because they had passed inspections this past week. Mary Robinson, office manager for Smokey’s Greater Shows, said the carnival planned to open as usual Sunday.

The accidents will not trigger a reinspection of the company’s other rides, and Smokey’s can continue normal operations in Waterville and other places, including rides set up at the Old Port Festival in Portland this weekend, according to Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Smokey’s owner Jeanette Gilmore, sitting next to the company’s Ferris wheel Saturday evening in the Old Port, said that while she was “heartbroken” over the injuries, the roller coaster in Waterville had passed two state inspections Wednesday and Thursday, and the woman who was injured on the swing ride got out of her chair before the ride came to a stop.

“It’s very upsetting to me to have an incident,” Gilmore said. “Smokey’s is 60 years old this year, and it has a very good safety record.”

Jessica Handley of Waterville, who said she witnessed the swing ride accident Saturday afternoon, said it was startling, following news of the roller coaster mishap Friday night.

“It’s crazy – two in a row,” Handley said.

RIDE SHUT DOWN AFTER ACCIDENT

Grimes said he didn’t know whether the company had a record of accidents and would not describe inspection procedures. That information would have to come from the inspections division and no one there would be available until Monday, he said.

Emergency crews were sent in response to the latest injury about 3:45 p.m. Saturday after a woman fell off a seat on the Air Time swing ride while it was still in movement, according to witnesses and Waterville Fire Department officials.

Handley said the ride had just started up when the woman was somehow knocked from her seat and thrown to the ground. The ride has bucket seats suspended with long chains from a rotating disc. The seats are pulled into the air as the disc rotates faster and faster.

The woman was loaded onto a backboard and taken by ambulance to Inland Hospital in Waterville. The injuries were not life-threatening, and fire department officials would not release the woman’s name.

The swing ride was shut down after the accident while the fire marshal’s office investigated. At the site late Saturday afternoon, fire marshal investigator Kenneth MacMaster said the investigation wasn’t complete, but it appeared rider error, not an equipment problem, might have caused the accident.

Friday night’s accident, though, is believed to have been caused by an equipment malfunction. The ride – the Dragon Wagon roller coaster – will remain closed until the problem can be identified and repaired.

Stephanie Carver, 27, of Waterville said her 10-year-old daughter and two sons, 7 and 5, rode the Dragon Wagon half an hour before the accident happened. The family left the ride to get a snow cone when the accident happened, Carver said.

She heard a loud bang and looked over to see two cars on the ride smashed together, and a group of hurt children crying and screaming, Carver said.

There was “blood everywhere,” she said.

Carver said she takes her children to the carnival every year, but after Friday, she intends to keep away from carnivals. There was no level of inspection that would convince her the rides were safe, Carver said, especially since the Dragon Wagon passed inspection only days before the accident.

“I will never bring my kids there again,” she said.

Smokey’s Dragon Wagon ride was inspected for the first time this year Wednesday, according to Grimes.

A coupling device, holding together cars of the roller coaster-style Dragon Wagon ride, is believed to have malfunctioned and caused the two sides of the ride to come apart and smash into one another, according to Grimes. The fire marshal’s office has completed a preliminary investigation of the accident, but the ride will be closed until the manufacturer is contacted to find out what went wrong and how to fix it so that it doesn’t happen again, Grimes said.

“After that happens, it will be reinspected,” he added.

Ken Martin, a safety analyst and consultant to the amusement ride industry based in Virginia, said he is familiar with the ride but had never heard of a similar malfunction on it. He said both a hitch and a safety chain are supposed to prevent the two sides of the ride from separating.

Martin said there are a hodgepodge of laws on safety inspections and he was aware that the responsibility in Maine had been transferred to the state fire marshal’s office this spring. He said that some states leave the responsibility for inspections to the ride operators, and in other states it’s the fire marshal’s office, the state labor department or even state agricultural officials. Training for inspectors also varies from state to state, he said.

The Dragon Wagon has eight cars that run on an oval-shaped miniature roller coaster course. According to Grimes, the front half uncoupled from the rear half as the ride was going over a small grade.

“The front half slid down the hill. When it came to the next hill, it stopped and slid back a bit, and the rear half, once it came over the top of the hill, slammed into the front half,” Grimes said.

Three children suffered minor injuries in the crash. A 6-year-old boy was taken from the scene to Inland Hospital in an ambulance for treatment of facial injuries, and a 6-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl were taken to the hospital by private vehicle after the event, Grimes said.

“Obviously there was a malfunction of a coupling between the front section and the rear section,” Grimes said. “As far as exactly what occurred, that’s one of the things that we want to discuss with the manufacturer at the beginning of the week.”

Customers waiting in line to ride the Smokey’s-operated Ferris wheel in the Old Port in Portland on Saturday evening said the news of back-to-back ride injuries was disturbing but not necessarily a surprise.

“I feel like you’re already taking a risk by going on a ride like this anyway,” said Jack Carley of Portland. “There’s one side of me that says it comes with the territory.”

Still, Carley said ride operators have a responsibility to make sure their rides remain safe.

Also in line for the Ferris wheel was Portland resident Marion Shea, who had just talked her friend into buying a ticket with her.

“Don’t tell me that,” Shea said after a reporter informed her of the injuries. “I really just want to go on the Ferris wheel – she already didn’t want to go on there.”

INSPECTIONS IN FOCUS

The Waterville carnival is being held as a fundraising event for the Maine Home for Little Wanderers. The festival, which began Thursday, opened at noon Saturday and was scheduled to be open from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Grimes said he couldn’t remember another instance when a single company had two accidents in such a short time. The accident Friday was reported at 7:06 p.m.

Gilmore said in an interview Saturday afternoon that the accident came as a complete surprise.

The Dragon Wagon ride was maintained daily and passed two state inspections as well as an independent review for insurance, Gilmore said.

“I don’t know why it even happened,” Gilmore said. “I feel very bad that children got hurt, and I’m really sorry about that, but there’s nothing I could do to prevent it.”

The Dragon Wagon is manufactured by Wisdom Ride Inc., an amusement ride manufacturer and retailer based in Merino, Colorado. A call to Wisdom’s offices was not returned Saturday afternoon. On its website, the company calls the Dragon Wagon one of its “proven money makers.”

All the rides at Smokey’s Greater Shows were inspected Wednesday by the fire marshal’s office, and the Dragon Wagon passed that inspection, according to Grimes.

Amusement rides are inspected annually by the fire marshal’s office. The first inspection occurs when the ride is set up for the first time in the year, and it is subject to regular spot inspections.

Malfunctions in mechanical rides “occur from time to time” and there are a number of accidents in Maine every year, Grimes added. He didn’t want to speculate on how many accidents occurred yearly because he is responsible for overseeing operations only for the central inspections division. The fire marshal’s office has northern, central and southern investigations divisions.

There probably will be no fines or penalties because of Friday night’s accident, Grimes said.

“This is one of those situations that appears to be an unforeseen accident,” he said. “Unfortunately, it resulted in an injury. The families I’m sure would have some sort of remedy, but that would be up to them.”

Maine Sunday Telegram Staff Writers J. Craig Anderson and Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.