HOUSTON – A state lawmaker is pushing for changes in the regulation of traveling carnivals in Texas after the KHOU 11 News I-Team found serious safety concerns on area midways.
Both parents and the amusement companies say there’s no excuse for ride operators using their cell phones while on the job. But time and time again our cameras caught it happening.
“Oh my God,” said Lissette Ibarra when we showed her video of ride operators texting at a carnival in Clute. “Oh my God, and that’s the small kids.”
“That’s unsafe, that’s what it is” agreed Jesus Robledo as he watched the video.
“You figure that’s what you pay them for, to take care of them,” said Michelle Pico after watching the workers seemingly paying more attention to their phones than safety rules.
The I-Team found ride operators from four different amusement companies using their cell phones at four different festivals.
In one case, an employee at the top of a giant slide was caught on camera using his cell phone as he helped kids prepare to slide down.
In another, the operator of a train ride designed for young children was seen staring at his phone as cars full of kids rolled past him.
“I own a business so if I see an employee doing that, I’d be upset about it,” said Richie Williams a parent who watched what we found.
Ride managers said workers should know better. Each company we talked with said operators are banned from using phones while running the rides.
“Can you afford for your operators to not be paying attention at all times,” the I-Team asked Jeff Przybycke, general manger of Jim’s Rides.
“No, no, absolutely not,” Przybycke said.
“It’s like the texting and driving thing you know,” said Przybycke as he glanced down at an imaginary phone agreeing that something can go wrong that quickly.
But in a few hours on the midway, we found four different Jim’s Rides workers on their hones when they were supposed to be watching riders.
“I’m mad and embarrassed,” said Przybycke agreeing when asked if he was worried the operators could have been putting people’s safety in danger. “Absolutely. It’s machinery and there are kids. Pushing the button’s not the hard part. It’s watching the kids.”
So the I-Team asked Przybycke how it happened on his watch.
“Well, I can’t be everywhere all at once,” said the general manager. “But I’m sure going to take care of it.”
If State Rep. Garnet Coleman has his way, Przybycke will have to take care of it. Coleman watched what we found. The Houston lawmaker says it’s time the state gets serious about safety and sets real regulations for traveling carnivals in Texas.
“It just takes a second for something to go wrong,” said Coleman. “And so a second of distraction may mean the difference between the life and death of a child.”
Right now, Texas only requires rides be inspected and operators insured.