No Defense:
The B&B Amusements
Himalaya Tragedy

March 19, 1999

One year has passed since the tragic death of fifteen-year-old Leslie Lane. On March 19, 1998, Leslie was killed during a ride on a Himalaya amusement ride at the Austin-Travis County Livestock Show & Rodeo in Texas. The ride was owned and operated by B&B Amusements of Yuma, Arizona. The girl's safety bar broke off from her car during her ride. She flew from her seat, still clutching onto the bar, and was thrown into the back wall of the ride. She suffered chest, neck, and head injuries, including a fractured skull. She died at the scene. The broken safety bar was later found underneath her body.

As usual, the ride was immediately declared safe following the incident. A spokesman for the event maintained that all of the rides operating at the fair were "safe." And two days later, the man who declared the Himalaya safe when he had inspected it just ten days earlier, told reporters that the lap bar did not tear from the latch, and that the accident could only have happened if the lap bar was not latched properly, or if the latch was opened by the customer.

He was wrong.

The ride was not safe, as so many had insisted. Investigators concluded that the lap bar did shear off from the car, and found pieces from a broken cotter pin, used to hold the lap bar in place, on the floor of the victim's car. They also found the ride to have been "poorly maintained," that the ride operators and owners had been advised of safety problems of the Himalaya before the incident, that the ride was being operated at an "unsafe" speed, that the restraint equipment was inadequate, that the use of cotter pins which were too small to hold the lap bars in place created an "unsafe" restraint system, and that this was known by the operators of the ride prior to the incident. Police suggested that the evidence pointed to a case of criminally negligent homicide.

Much has happened in a year. The investigation led to the indictments of nine people on charges of first-degree murder. Those charged include the carnival owners, ride inspectors, maintenance workers, and ride operators. The case is pending in Texas.

Some would say this is shocking. The attorney defending the owners of the Himalaya called the charges "totally ridiculous." Others say that the gross negligence, carelessness and recklessness on the part of those charged is the real shock in this case.

The amusement industry prides itself on having a phenomenal safety record, and there is no question that the safety of riders is the top priority of just about every carnival and park operator in this country. Occasionally, accidents happen, as do they in all aspects of the human condition. But the circumstances surrounding the Himalaya accident are different than those of any other amusement ride accident in modern American history.

This was no freak accident. What happened to Leslie Lane would have been foreseen by any responsible person who was aware of the ride's operating condition at the time of the accident. Who could be so careless as to ignore the specifications of a ride's designer and manufacturer, to operate the ride at unsafe speeds, and to use insufficient equipment to restrain passengers? Who could be so reckless as to ignore complaints from other riders about missing ride parts and broken safety bars? Who could be so blind to the flaws of the ride that they would inspect the ride and deem it safe for operation?

Are those charged with murder the real victims here? Are they really "scapegoats," as one industry official suggests, or would his story be different if his daughter was the one killed?

There is only one victim of this tragedy. To try and put any other spin on this situation is, frankly, pathetic. Leslie Lane was robbed of her life by people who have disgraced the amusement industry. Why will no one accept any responsibility for what happened? Why will no one come out and say that, given the condition of the ride at the time of the accident, it should never have been operated; that it was a death trap, and that a tragedy like this was imminent? Why do so many rush to the support of those accused in this case? Why has no one condemned such recklessness for the sake of all the responsible carnival and amusement park operators and ride inspectors in this country? After all, what case could possibly be made on behalf of the accused which would justify their negligence? Ironically -- and sadly -- they are left with exactly that which they left Leslie Lane with one year ago: no defense.

On November 20, 2000, the owner of B&B Amusements, Robert Merten, Sr., pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges which had been brought against him in connection with the death of Leslie Lane. Merten pleaded guilty on his own behalf, and on behalf of his company. On May 11, 2001, Bob G. Gill, the man who inspected the Himalaya ride, pled guilty to manslaughter on behalf of his company, Bob G. Gill & Associates. In addition, Gill pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge on his own behalf. Bob G. Gill & Associates is no longer in business. B&B Amusements still operates amusement rides.


ALL RELATED STORIES

  • Girl, 15, killed on Himalaya ride at Texas fair (3/19/98)
  • Investigators in Texas suspect lap bar failure (3/21/98)
  • Carnival operator faced 15 lawsuits since 1985 (3/22/98)
  • "I told y'all it was broke" (3/23/98)
  • Investigators: safety bar broke off from car "at all three points of attachment" (3/24/98)
  • Austin police issue search warrant/affidavit (3/24/98)
  • Texas accident not the first for Himalaya ride (4/23/98)
  • CPSC urges further safety inspections of mobile amusement rides (8/20/98)
  • Texas grand jury charges nine with murder (9/29/98)
  • CPSC, Reverchon announce repair program for Himalaya rides (3/23/99)
  • Prosecutors extend Himalaya investigation, dismiss indictments (4/30/99)
  • B&B: accident was victim's fault (5/4/99)
  • Himalaya civil lawsuits settled (10/12/99)
  • New Mexico State Fair hires B&B Amusements (10/22/99)
  • "I would never let my children ride on that company's rides after what I've learned" (10/22/99)
  • Senator says B&B failed to disclose legal proceedings to fair officials (10/27/99)
  • State voids contract with B&B: "They did not tell the truth" (10/30/99)
  • B&B dropped, new fair operator sought: "We want people to be safe" (10/31/99)
  • B&B Amusements, Bob G. Gill & Associates charged with manslaughter (12/16/99)
  • New Mexico files lawsuit against B&B Amusements (12/16/99)
  • Arizona fair drops B&B Amusements (12/18/99)
  • Jurors express shock, outrage after hearing evidence in Himalaya case (12/18/99)
  • B&B, Six Flags among 7 companies bidding for New Mexico State Fair contract (12/21/99)
  • OABA raises $300,000 for B&B, Gill defense; list of donors kept secret (1/5/00)
  • B&B Amusements owner arrested, charged with bribing IRS agent (11/19/03)
  • California fair drops B&B Amusements (11/20/03)


    NO DEFENSE: B&B AMUSEMENTS OWNER PLEADS GUILTY TO MANSLAUGHTER

    (Monday, November 20, 2000) - The owner of B&B Amusements has pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the case of the 1998 Texas Himalaya accident which left a 15-year-old girl dead. In addition to pleading guilty on his own behalf, Robert Merten, Sr. also pleaded guilty to manslaughter on behalf of his company.

    The guilty plea makes B&B Amusements the first carnival operator in American history to be held criminally responsible for the death of a patron which resulted from negligence. The manslaughter indictment said that the victim, 15-year-old Leslie Lane, was "restrained by a lap bar with an inadequate latching mechanism and a lap bar attachment that was inadequate to secure the lap bar to the amusement ride."

    The accident happened on March 19, 1998. Leslie Lane was riding the Himalaya with her brother and a friend. The three were flung from their seat after their safety bar broke off of their car. Lane was thrown into a wall and killed.

    The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission inspected the ride and concluded that the car in which Lane was riding was defective. Austin police also conducted their own investigation of the ride, and concluded that Lane's safety bar broke off of her car "at all three points of attachment." The lap bar was later found underneath Lane's body. Police also concluded that "the use of cotter pins that were too small to keep the lap bar in place created an unsafe restraint system," and that "this was known by operators of the Himalaya ride prior to the incident."

    Asked whether he was pleading guilty because the charge was true, Merten replied, "Yes."

    Under a plea agreement with county prosecutors, B&B Amusements will pay a $50,000 fine, and Merten will be sentenced to jail for 30 days and receive six years' probation. Merten has also waived his right to appeal. He will be sentenced on December 4. After the hearing, Merten was taken to the Travis County jail.

    Manslaughter charges are still pending against Robert G. Gill and his company, Robert G. Gill & Associates of Florida, which inspected the Himalaya ride and deemed it safe for operation.

    Three employees of B&B Amusements are also facing manslaughter charges in connection with the accident, but those charges will be dropped if the employees cooperate with the state in its case against Gill and his company.


    NO DEFENSE: AMUSEMENT INDUSTRY'S "SAFETY MAN OF THE CENTURY" PLEADS GUILTY IN TEXAS HIMALAYA DEATH

    (Friday, May 11, 2001) - On behalf of his company Bob G. Gill and Associates, Bob Gill has pled guilty to manslaughter charges which resulted from the 1998 Texas Himalaya fatality at the Austin-Travis County Livestock Show and Rodeo. Fifteen-year-old Leslie Lane was killed while riding the Himalaya, which was owned and operated by B&B Amusements of Yuma, Arizona. Her safety bar broke off her car at every point of attachment. She was thrown from her seat into a wall and killed. The Himalaya had been inspected by Gill's company just ten days earlier.

    An Austin, Texas court accepted Gill's plea, and fined his company $30,000. In addition, Gill pleaded guilty on his own behalf to a misdemeanor charge and was fined $100.

    When Gill inspected the Himalaya ride on March 9, 1998, he found that four of the ride's cars had broken locking mechanisms and another car had a broken seat. He ordered that those cars not be used, but allowed the ride to open.

    Lane's safety bar broke on March 19, 1998, the same day that three other passengers reported another broken safety bar after they had ridden in another car. In addition, police investigators found two other cars on the ride with no locking devices on them at all. They also witnessed three more locking devices break off of cars when they went to operate the ride after the accident to test speeds.

    Gill remains a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials and was given the organization's "Man of the Century" award last year for his "dedication to ride safety."

    Gill's company is no longer in business.

    Gill is now employed by Farrow Shows of Jackson, Mississippi.


    THE B&B AMUSEMENTS HIMALAYA:
    JUST ANOTHER SAFE AMUSEMENT RIDE?

    The B&B Amusements Himalaya was tagged for safety violations in July, 1991 and again in May, 1992 in Costa Mesa, California; again in February, 1993 in El Centro, California; again in February, 1994 in Indio, California; again in September, 1994 in Tulare, California; again in August, 1997 in San Mateo, California; again in October, 1997 in Perris, California; and again in February, 1998, when the State of California issued an order prohibiting use of the ride within the state. At that time, state officials went to a fair in Del Mar, California to shut the ride down, but the Himalaya was gone. Less than a month later, the ride was operating at the Austin-Travis Livestock Show and Rodeo in Texas, where it killed Leslie Lane. The following is a description of the condition of the ride at the time it killed Lane.
    CAR #2:
    broken locking mechanism reported at inspection of ride, March 9, 1998; car "not to be used" per order of inspector
    CAR #5:
    broken seat reported at inspection of ride, March 9, 1998; car "not to be used" per order of inspector
    CAR #6:
    broken locking mechanism reported at inspection of ride, March 9, 1998; car "not to be used" per order of inspector
    CAR #13:
    locking mechanism missing from car; lap bar taped down at post-incident inspection of ride; car was not operational on March 19, 1998
    CAR #16:
    locking mechanism missing from car; lap bar taped down at post-incident inspection of ride; car was not operational on March 19, 1998
    CAR #17:
    broken locking mechanism reported at inspection of ride, March 9, 1998; car "not to be used" per order of inspector
    CAR #19:
    lap bar broke off from car at all three points of attachment March 19, 1998; 3 riders ejected from car: one killed, two injured
    CAR #23:
    lap bar reported broken by three riders on March 19, 1998; one rider told police, "I held on to a bar that was part of the seat in order not to fall out."
    CAR #24:
    broken locking mechanism reported at inspection of ride, March 9, 1998; car "not to be used" per order of inspector
    CAR # N/A:
    knob, spring and collar locking mechanisms detatched from car and flew from ride during first post-incident test run of ride by police investigators
    CAR # N/A:
    knob locking device detatched from car during subsequent test run of ride by police investigators
    CAR # N/A:
    locking mechanism detatched from car and flew from ride during subsequent test run of ride by police investigators
    In February, 2000, Bob G. Gill, the man who inspected this ride and deemed it safe for operation, was given the "Man of the Century" award by the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials for his "dedication to ride safety."

    The following companies and organizations proudly supported B&B Amusements and Bob G. Gill & Associates, and financially contributed to the companies' legal defense:

    Chance Rides, Silver Dollar Shows, Sellner Manufacturing Company, Bates Brothers Amusement Company, G&S Shows, Great Plains Amusements, Inland Empire Shows, Marklo Attractions, Montana Brothers Shows, S&S Amusements, Pride of Texas Shows, Windy City Amusements, Miami Showmen's Club, Hampton Amusement Rides, Strates Shows, Skerbeck Amusements, Hot Springs Showmen's Association, Majestic Manufacturing, Eli Bridge, Blue Grass Shows, Carnival Time Shows, Fiesta Shows, Royal West Amusements, W.G. Wade Shows, Wisdom Industries, Jim Houghton Enterprises, Showmen's League of America, Outdoor Amusement Business Association, J.A. Blash Shows, Glory Amusement, Fantasy Amusement Company, Ottaway Amusement, Southland Amusements, Norton Auctioneers, Minnesota Association of Fairs, Lone Star Showmen's Club, National Showmen's Association, Amusement Industry Expo, Midwest Showmen's Club

    NATIONAL CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION INVESTIGATION

    Files are in PDF format. The Adobe Acrobat Viewer is needed to view all PDF files. The viewer can be downloaded free of charge here. The following PDF files are contained within the online archives of the website of the Unites States Consumer Product Safety Commission. For best results, download the files first, then open and view them. To download the files, right-click on each icon, then choose "Save Target As..." from the drop-down menu.
    Himalaya fatality investigation,
    (part one of two, 68 pages)
    Himalaya fatality investigation,
    (part two of two, 48 pages)

    IN THEIR OWN WORDS

    "The operator of the ride got on a loudspeaker and said, 'If you want to go faster let me hear everybody scream.' Everybody started screaming and the ride started going faster. I then heard a loud noise which sounded like a gun shot. I then saw the operator look shaken up and he slowed down the ride. I thought the ride had blown a fuse and then I went around and saw a another person standing above them looking down as if they were going to help the person on the ground. The wall that the person laying on the ground hit was dented... I also saw a little boy holding his back crying. He looked to be about five or six. At this time the ride was going slow enough for me to get off so I jumped off because I didn't want to pass the body again."
    - Eyewitness account

    "While the ride was operating at maximum speed, parts came flying off of the ride on three different occasions... Each time a part came flying off, it was part of the locking mechanism that secures the lap bars to the individual cars. On one occasion a knob came unscrewed from the shaft and on the other two occasions the entire shaft came unscrewed from the outside of the car."
    - Post-incident police investigation

    "...I see two young [ladies] come out of their seats head first and into the back wall. I then look and see the lady laying on her back coughing up blood. I see the lap bar like under her legs. I see the other lady laying next to the lady coughing up blood and she is holding her side reaching to the other lady's head. I step out of the operator's box and immediately look and find the first person with a radio to contact E.M.S. I can say that I saw her legs fly by and as I looked I saw that she was already laying down with her head in a puddle of blood... I was asked by Detective Gonzales what may have caused this accident. I told Detective Gonzales that the cotter keys holding the lap bar in may not have been heavy enough to hold the weight of the passengers. On the ride we are supposed to use 3-16ths cotter keys. We sometimes use smaller cotter keys because some of the holes are not 3-16ths."
    - A Himalaya ride operator

    "I heard [them] tell the workers that the safety bar of their seat was broken, I asked them what number the seat was and [my friend] told me car 23, we all went back to the seat and showed the [ride operator] where the seat was broken. I was standing there and saw the arm lift up from where it is supposed to be connected to. There appeared to be a missing part where the safety bar was joined to the seat."
    - Rider's account of riding the Himalaya hours prior to Lane's death.

    "The ride started, we went real fast, then the ride started to slow down, the bar come off the hinge from the right side. The ride kept going. [My friend] told me the bar is broke, the ride started to speed up. I grabbed one arm on the bar to hold it down and I grabbed the back of the seat, I started screaming, "Hey, the bar is broke!" The ride started to speed up I yelled again this time waving my right arm and pointing at the bar. "This [expletive] bar is broke..."
    - Rider's account of riding the Himalaya hours prior to Lane's death.

    "I heard two loud bangs and I started looking around and saw a little boy sitting leaning against the scenery holding his back. I went back and hit the alarm for [the operator] to stop the ride and then I started over to where [the operator] was. This is when I saw the little girl. She was laying on the ground by the dog house. I saw blood all around her head and blood was coming from her mouth. I also saw a lady laying on the ground bleeding also and in between the lady and the little girl was the lap bar..."
    - A Himalaya ride operator

    "...While the ride was in motion the bar that holds you in the seat broke. It broke down at the bottom and it lifted up. The bar was supposed to hold me and [my friend] in the seat but now it was up. I held on to a bar that was part of the seat in order not to fall out. I think [my friend] was holding on to the bar since it was still locked down on his side."
    - Rider's account of riding the Himalaya hours prior to Lane's death.

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