A video capturing the three-year-old girl’s fall from the Techno Jump carnival ride at The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on Wednesday, March 14, 2012, appears inconsistent with the story originally given by Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer on Wednesday. This incident demonstrates how companies immediately start putting their spin on things in the press to try to deflect any responsibility away from themselves. In this modern age of technology where everyone has a video camera on their phone, early unconfirmed story-spinning may prove to be dangerous.
Mr. Shafer first pointed the finger at the little girl when he was quoted as saying “As the ride started off – probably 15 seconds into the ride – the girl decided to crawl out to get back to her mother.” (Her mother was not on the ride itself, but was waiting below as the girl and her eight-year old brother rode the Techno Jump without an adult in the car with them.) He went on to deflect blame to the parents by stating: “Parents have got to take responsibility to keep their children safe, particularly if they are going to ride adult rides.” He further shifted responsibility to the brother by saying: “the 8-year-old brother couldn’t restrain the little sister and she was trying to get out of the ride.” Rodeo officials further reported that the child fell only a few feet as the ride was starting. Never once in his initial press interviews did he suggest that perhaps the ride operator has a duty to check that a three-year-old is not riding an inappropriate ride nor that the operator has a duty to make sure the riders are properly buckled into the cars.
A new video taken by other rodeo-goers has shed new light on the incident. The cars are designed with grooves for each rider’s leg which effectively provides a crotch restraint to prevent riders from sliding out. The video shows that the girl was seated in the car with both legs in the left leg groove. With no crotch restraint holding her, she slid out of the ride and was tossed from a height of about 6-8 feet in the air once the ride reached full speed.
This video presents quite a different picture than the accusations that the little girl simply crawled out of the restrains and fell. If the girl did not properly fit in the grooved seats or was not seated and belted properly from the start, she should never have been allowed to ride. Checking this is the job of the operator who knows the ride, not the rodeo patrons.
Here is the video obtained by KTRK-TV:
Mr. Shafer further told the press that Texas Children’s Hospital found no internal injuries according to the Houston Chronicle’s story on March 14th, 2012. It turns out that this is not 100% accurate either since the girl suffered a concussion in the fall.
Obviously, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has an interest in avoiding bad press due to an incident like this, but misrepresenting the facts whether intentional or accidental because a complete investigation had not yet been conducted could bring worse press to a company than the incident itself. Hopefully, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will learn from this incident to be more cautious–both in setting and enforcing appropriate riding rules and in accurately investigating and reporting incidents to the press. Having video evidence contradict your account of what happened in one instance can undermine an organization’s credibility for a long time.