3 Accidents Stir Concern In Parents, Not Children Victim Of Fall At N.j. Park Still In Hospital.

Posted: July 22, 1997

NORTH WILDWOOD — Nick Fenstermaker, a beach towel draped over his head, stood dripping in his Nike bathing trunks at the entrance of Morey's Pier yesterday afternoon and gave his mother one of those rolls of the eyes teenagers are so good at delivering.

Nancy Fenstermaker, of Emmaus, Pa., had just broken the news to her oldest son. There would be no riding the Great Nor'easter, that pink looping coaster on which passengers dangle from seats that are connected to a track above them. Forget about the upside down and backward trip on the Sea Serpent just down the Boardwalk at Mariner's Landing, too, she said.

``I think we'll do water slides and miniature golf,'' she said.

Usually, her three boys - including the 13-year-old Nick, Patrick, 11, and Jacob, 8 - have the run of an amusement park, free to ride whatever their nerves and stomachs can bear. But not yesterday, one day after 9-year-old Patrick McKeown of Erial fell out of the Jet Star roller coaster on Morey's Pier, landing 20 feet below on the platform.

The accident came just three days after a 4-year-old Philadelphia boy tumbled out of a looping roller coaster in Atlantic City, plunging 45 feet to the Boardwalk. State investigators found no mechanical cause for that problem and have permitted the Super Loops ride on the Steel Pier to reopen.

Investigators still are looking into why the Sky Ride in Seaside Heights malfunctioned July 11 by not coming to a complete stop. Two people grabbed onto the back of a chair when they realized that a young child was still in a seat. The two people fell to the beach below. The ride is still open.

In North Wildwood yesterday, the Jet Star remained closed as investigators from the state Department of Labor tried to determine what had caused the emergency brake in the car Patrick had been riding to activate in mid-course, tossing him out of the capsule-shaped compartment about 9:30 p.m. Sunday as an uncle and cousin on the ride looked on in horror.

Patrick was reported in stable condition yesterday at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden. His family declined through a hospital spokeswoman to be interviewed. Geoff Rogers, director of operations at Morey's Pier, said he had been told that the boy has jaw fractures and various dental injuries.

Meanwhile, several parents who opted for the Boardwalk rather than the beach during yesterday's cloudy morning and early afternoon found themselves shaken by the string of amusement-ride mishaps and saying ``no'' more often than usual to some rides when their children wanted to hear ``yes.''

``She always worries too much,'' Nick Fenstermaker said of his mother, his eyes starting to roll again.

Mariclaire Hosking, 37, of Kunkletown, near the Poconos, is a worrier, too.

Yesterday, she said she endured some foot-stomping and pouting from daughter Amy, 10, who was told that she could not go on the Nor'easter because her mother thought: ``It's scary hanging up there.'' That was before Hosking had learned of the accident on the Jet Star the night before. Once she was told about that, Hosking joked that she was toying with the idea of further restricting Amy and younger sister, Rachael, 7 - to the carousel and other tame rides.

Other parents said they had no plans to start banning their children from rides that they are qualified - usually based on height - to ride. Several said they are more apt to believe that the accidents had something to do with rider carelessness rather than a malfunction of the ride itself.

``I think they're getting inspected and regulated enough,'' Jack Schilling, 41, of Doylestown, said as he was leaving Mariner's Pier yesterday with his wife, Marian, and their sons, Patrick, 15 and Christopher, 11.

The Department of Labor inspects each of the 1,200 to 1,300 permitted amusement rides in the state at least once before the summer season and usually two or three times a year, said spokesman Kevin Smith. No operating permits are issued without a satisfactory inspection, Smith said. Inspections also take into account whether adequate training of ride operators is being conducted, he said.

What exactly happened to cause the emergency brake on the Jet Star on Morey's Pier to be activated Sunday night remained unclear yesterday.

Rogers said two things could cause that to happen - a ride operator or a computer system designed to trigger some braking if it senses that one car is getting too close to another. At the time of the accident, the ride had three operators on duty, ages, 19, 20 and 36, Rogers said. Rogers estimated the peak speed of each car at 20 miles per hour.

The ride, by design, does not include seat belts or any other restraints, Rogers said. Passengers sit one behind the other in a line of seven unattached yellow-nosed cars that can accommodate five or six adults each. The safety railings in each car run on either side of a passenger and are padded with black leather cushions that match the seats. The cars run along meandering purple tracks that rise, in some spots, as high as 35 feet off the ground, according to Rogers' estimate. The entire ride lasts about 90 seconds.

Passengers must be at least 52 inches tall or accompanied by an adult. Patrick was sharing a car, which is about five feet in length, with an uncle and cousin. There is a metal partition in each car that separates those sitting in the front from those sitting in the rear. Rogers did not know whether the injured boy was accompanied in his section of the car or whether he was sitting by himself. At the point where Patrick fell, there was a curve in the track, Rogers said.

``It's obviously an unfortunate incident that we don't currently have an answer for,'' Rogers said. ``We will not operate it until our company is completely satisfied that we know what happened and that we can ensure that it won't happen again.''

After five days of riding what felt like all 35 rides on Morey's Pier and the 60-some other rides on two other areas of the Wildwoods' Boardwalk, Liz Ciervo, 36, of Lemoyne, Pa., said she was glad she was heading for home yesterday. She would not have felt as brave about all those swerving, looping, upside-down rides she and her three daughters had been on the past few days had Sunday's accident happened at the beginning of their trip, Ciervo said.

``I take risks more when I don't hear about anything bad first,'' she said.

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