As Amber Duffield strolled past her television, it seemed to be telegraphing news meant just for her: A catastrophic ride failure that evening at the Ohio State Fair had killed a fair-goer and injured several others.
“It felt like someone just grabbed my right shoulder and said: Stop. Take note what’s on this TV right now,” Duffield said. “And I did. And I remember reaching out to the TV and saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s Slim.’”
On the afternoon of July 26, 2017, her son, Tyler Jarrell, whom she called Slim, had headed off to the fair. Now the 18-year-old high-school senior, who had enlisted in Marine Corps, wasn’t answering texts. Duffield phoned the fair office. When the woman who answered learned who she was, she told her: “We’ll be in touch.”
“What I call ‘hell’ came to follow” in the form of two police squad cars pulling up to the house, Duffield recalled. “I would not receive that information at my door. I went wailing down to the car. … I said, ‘I’ve waited long enough, where is my son?’ And finally one of the State Highway Patrol (troopers) said, ‘Ma’am, he was the fatality.’” She fell to the ground, yelling at the officers to get away.
Nine days later, the Fire Ball’s manufacturer, Netherlands-based KMG, issued its findings. “Excessive corrosion on the interior of the gondola support beam dangerously reduced the beam’s wall thickness over the years. … This finally led to the catastrophic failure of the ride during operation.”
Left unsaid was that KMG had been put on notice about the potential rusting issue more than five years earlier.
According to a 2012 letter from KGM to ride operators North American Midway Entertainment in Brantford, Ontario, KMG said it was lowering the minimum required thickness of the steel support beams required to operate the ride. Each beam holds a four-passenger gondola. A diagram in the letter pinpoints the area affected — exactly where the Fire Ball’s arm broke.