The Daytona Beach roller coaster that flung two riders 34 feet to the ground after derailing reportedly had racked up more than a dozen safety violations from state inspectors early last year, ranging from cracked supports to seats not being properly fastened in its cars.
Six people were injured and another eight were stranded after a ride on the Sandblaster ended in chaos late Thursday, prompting firefighters to rescue some passengers dangling from the coaster’s three cars. But the ride’s troubles appear to have started long before then – the theme park it’s part of has been under financial duress in recent years, spurred on by rising insurance premiums and damage from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, news reports said.
“It’s in a total state of decline. They should take the rides out. They’re rotting to the ground,” Neil Harrington, a former South Atlantic Community Redevelopment Area Board chairman, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in May 2017.
Months before Harrington’s take, an inspection of the Sandblaster roller coaster forced its closure after investigators found a damaged handrail, four safety cables not properly fastened, a slew of damaged braces, cracked supports and various other issues, the newspaper reported.
The ride was already four decades old when it was brought to the Florida city’s boardwalk in 2013 from a shuttered amusement park in Delaware, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Business partners Ed Kennedy and Stan Manousos – responsible for bringing other attractions to the waterfront – reportedly spent more than $1 million to renovate the Sandblaster.
“In Florida, we create memories. This [ride] will create a lot of memories,” Gov. Rick Scott was quoted as saying at the ride’s opening.
Yet three years later, after Hurricane Matthew plowed through the area, Kennedy and Manousos suffered financial setbacks as they needed to repair the damage the rides suffered from the storm while trying to pay off back taxes they already owed and rising insurance premiums, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
“Go-Karts, a Tilt-A-Whirl, and a roller coaster have sat idle for months, developing a layer of rust, while the surrounding area has collected trash and debris, and falling into disrepair,” the newspaper wrote in a June 2017 editorial. “Not only has there been no activity there, threatening an end to a decades-long tradition, it also has become an eyesore in the heart of the city’s main tourism corridor — right as the tourist season is peaking…”
Kennedy was also quoted in a 2015 interview saying that the rides "make very little profit."
The Sandblaster managed to re-open last summer along with other new attractions after a city official persuaded an owner to relocate a planned amusement area from Riverfront Park to the boardwalk.
“That will necessitate cleaning up the Boardwalk amusement area and repairing the wooden and iron fencing, which have contributed to its sad decline,” the newspaper editorial said.
But as of this year, some of those who had ridden the Sandblaster before expressed doubts about its safety.
“I feel like the ride wasn’t checked well enough,” Trevor Gutierrez, a 13-year-old from Atlanta who rode the 2,710 foot-long coaster after its re-opening, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal following Thursday night's derailment.
Gutierrez said the last time he was on the Sandblaster, it was too bumpy.
“I’m not riding on that thing again,” he told the newspaper.
The cause of Thursday’s derailment has not yet been revealed. The Florida Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection, which says on its site that it inspects permanent amusement rides semiannually, told Fox News that "just yesterday, department inspectors conducted a thorough inspection of the ride, and it was found in compliance with state law.
“We have launched an investigation to determine the cause of the accident, and anyone who should be held accountable will be held accountable,” its communications director, Jennifer Meale, said in a statement.
The extent of the riders' injuries as of Friday is unknown.