Woman Is Thrown From A.c. Ride; Accident Is 2d On Pier In A Month Inspectors Are Examining Wipeout On The Steel Pier. The Victim Was Hospitalized.

Posted: August 12, 1997

ATLANTIC CITY — In the sixth serious amusement-ride accident of the summer at the Jersey Shore, a woman was thrown from the Wipeout ride on the Steel Pier on Sunday night.

It was the second time in less than a month that a passenger fell from a ride on the pier. On July 17, a 4-year-old boy from Philadelphia fell from the Super Loops, a circular roller coaster, and landed on the pier 45 feet below. He fractured a leg.

In Sunday's accident, Leotilde Amezquita, 47, of Elizabeth, N.J., was thrown from one of the Wipeout's 20 spinning cars at 9:44 p.m., said Detective Joseph LaTorre, a police spokesman. She landed on the deck below. It had not been determined yesterday how far she had fallen. The ride goes as high as 22 feet, said Bill Kelly, operator of the Steel Pier.

Amezquita was taken by ambulance to Atlantic City Medical Center-City Division, where she remained yesterday in stable condition. LaTorre said it appeared she had suffered head injuries. The hospital would not comment.

Inspectors from the New Jersey Department of Labor's Office of Public Safety Compliance have ordered the ride closed while they check it for possible mechanical and/or operator malfunction. The ride, the only Wipeout operating in New Jersey, was last inspected June 20 and was in working order, said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the Labor Department. The ride has been offered at the Steel Pier since 1996. A Wipeout operated from 1993 through 1995 on Morey's Pier in North Wildwood without incident, Smith said.

From all accounts from operators of the Steel Pier, the Sunday accident should not have happened, said Leonard Katz, assistant commissioner in the Labor Department. Wipeout - whose cars rise 22 feet into the air and then drop while they are spinning - should not move unless all safety lap bars are locked in place, Katz said his inspectors were told by a ride operator. And once the lap bars are in place, riders should not be able to fall out, Katz said.

In Sunday's accident, the ride was moving, which led the operator to conclude that all lap bars were secure, Katz said.

``Listening to the operator, he says it couldn't have happened,'' Katz said. ``We want to see how the impossible happened.''

Ed Olwell, one of the operators of the Steel Pier, said the Wipeout is inspected daily by mechanics and ride operators at the pier, in addition to the inspections conducted once or twice a year by the state. What could have caused someone to fall out is baffling, Olwell said.

``Something went wrong,'' he said. ``We want to find out what happened, and we want to find out if we need to make adjustments.''

The Labor Department could make adjustments a mandatory condition for the Wipeout to reopen, just as it did in North Wildwood after Patrick McKeown, 9, of Erial, fell out of the Jet Star roller coaster on Morey's Pier and landed 20 feet below on the platform. That was on July 20. Before the Jet Star could reopen, the Labor Department required Morey's to install seat belts, retrain operators and alter the spacing between cars. McKeown suffered jaw fractures and dental injuries from the fall.

Labor inspectors have determined that nothing mechanical caused Demetrius Town, the 4-year-old boy from Philadelphia, to fall from the Super Loops last month.

The other accidents that have kept inspectors unusually busy this summer involved the drowning of an 8-year-old Staten Island boy at Runaway Rapids Waterpark in Keansburg, Monmouth County, on July 28, and two accidents in Seaside Heights in recent months where a total of three people fell from the Sky Ride.

At the Steel Pier, Olwell said he wants to be certain what caused Amezquita to fall from the Wipeout on Sunday before the ride reopens.

``We don't want anybody else hurt,'' he said.

``We're in the business of making people happy,'' he added. ``This thing didn't make anybody happy.''

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