A Tragic Death, An Ongoing Debate

A month has passed since 11-year-old Abiah Jones fatally fell more than 100 feet from the Giant Wheel at Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, and the sad tale seems more divisive than ever.

Jones was visiting the popular amusement park on a field trip with classmates from PleasanTech Academy Charter School in her hometown of Pleasantville. The trip was a reward for honor roll students. While investigators were unable to deduce the precise circumstances of the fall, it’s assumed that Jones—who was alone on the ride—was not sitting when she tumbled from the ride’s gondola.

The ride has since reopened with new safety guidelines. Ride operators now require that at least two people occupy each gondola. Moreover, the minimum height requirement has been increased from 54 inches to 60 inches for children riding without an adult.

But that isn’t enough for Abiah’s parents, who say Ferris wheel passengers should be required to wear a safety belt.

“It’s the law,” her father, Byron Jr., said during a recent appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. “You must put your seat belt on while operating a motor vehicle, so why shouldn’t a Ferris wheel have a restraint?”

Bringing this up at family gatherings has inspired heated debate. On the surface the discussion has swirled around whether it’s necessary to require safety restraints on a ride as seemingly tranquil as a Ferris wheel. (I think it is a bit excessive.) On a deeper level, however, the debate often turns to matters of blame.

Jones’s death was tragic and unimaginably sad, but is there a responsible party? And does every devastating accident warrant a regulatory reaction? This is the first fatality ever experienced at Morey’s, and according to a 2010 report from the National Safety Council the estimated number of amusement-related injuries on fixed-site rides nationwide was 1,086 — or 0.6 per million patrons in 2009. The study further says the odds of being injured on a fixed-site amusement ride in the U.S. are 1 in 9 million.

I have no idea how I’d react if I were in the shoes of Abiah’s parents, but I’m clear on this: No amount of blame or changes in our laws can bring her back.

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