The Mercer County Fair and Horse Show is one of the community’s fondest traditions, going back two centuries.
But one family is wondering how safe the rides at the fair are after an accident Wednesday.
It was supposed to be a special day of fun for people with special needs, their families and friends. Brian Morrison was there as a staff member for Creative Options, which provides day activities for people with special needs. The accident happened when he tried to step off the merry-go-round.
“I was holding onto the handle to step off,” Morrison said. “When I touched the railing it was over.”
A powerful jolt of electricity ran through his body.
“I was on there for about a minute,” Morrison recalled. “They cut the power and I fell.”
Other than turn off the power, the operator made no attempt to see if Morrison was injured or needed assistance.
“He came over and told me to get up,” Morrison said.
He went to Ephraim McDowell-James B. Haggin Memorial Hospital, where they ran tests and suggested he see a neurologist. Morrison said he was in the process of making an appointment.
He said no one from the fair or from Forever Young Amusements, who operate the rides, had made any attempt to contact him.
“I haven’t heard any more from them,” Morrison said. “That made me kind of mad.”
It also bothers him that there is so little oversight over fair rides. Under state law, the Office of Consumer and Environmental Protection, a division of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, inspects all amusement rides and attractions to ensure their safety, including amusement parks, mobile carnivals, air inflatables, go-cart tracks, restaurant play courts and water parks.
According to the state website, each operator must submit an annual application, insurance, itinerary, and payment for a permit in order to operate their business.
LeMayne Ellis, president of the fair board, deferred questions to the ride operator, although Ellis did say the merry-go-round had been cleared for use by a state inspector after the issue that led to Morrison’s accidental electrocution had been repaired. He said the rides are inspected by the state every time they are set up.
John Young, owner of Forever Young Amusements, declined to comment, saying only that his insurance company would take care of everything.
Young is originally from Harrodsburg, but his company operates out of Conley, Georgia. According to a 2015 profile, he has nearly four decades of experience as a ride operator and carnival manager. He has been bringing his rides and games to the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show since 2013.
Young’s on the road 42 weeks a year, mostly in Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. The rides are transported by truck. Young said his crew can set up the carnival in as little as 12 hours and tear it down in eight. That’s when they perform maintenance, he said.
“If we’re not running it, we’re working on it,” Young told The Harrodsburg Herald in 2015.
The assurances of frequent inspection have not done much to calm Terry Morrison, the father of Brian Morrison.
“He came within an ounce of losing his life, inspection or no inspection,” Terry Morrison said.
According to the Forever Young website, the merry-go-round is considered safe for children, but Morrison has his doubts.
“I have great concerns about a lot of these rides,” said Terry Morrison. “I have a great concern about the owner of this amusement company.”
The family declined to say if they would pursue legal action.