(MOBILE, Ala.) - It's a lot of fun for kids, but as your children zoom by on rides at the fair, who is making sure they are safe? The LOCAL 15 Investigators went undercover to expose a dangerous problem.
We watched as ride operators repeatedly violated safety regulations, paying more attention to their cell phones and iPods, than to the equipment they were operating.
"I thought it was incredibly irresponsible," said parent Dan Fontz. Our cameras caught ride operators texting, talking, even playing music.
"If they are looking at their phone, then they're not paying attention to the ride. If someone is wanting to get off the ride, if there's a malfunction with the ride, so obviously it's a safety issue," said Pat Repp of North American Midway Entertainment.
At the Pensacola Interstate Fair, the LOCAL 15 Investigators caught an operator texting during the day and at night, as riders blew past him. Another employee kept his phone hooked up to the charger, as he sent text messages. Our cameras caught a different ride operator chatting away, with one hand on the controls. He didn't even hang up to help passengers off the ride.
We showed our video to those in charge of the Pensacola Interstate Fair.
"You found some operators that were either texting or talking on their cell phones, and that's expressly forbidden by our company. I'm going to take immediate action as soon as we are done," said Richard Reithoffer, the General Manager of Reithoffer Shows.
He did. We watched as ride operators had their cell phones taken away. They'll get them back at the end of the night. If they are caught using them a second time, they'll be fined. Upon the 3rd time, they are fired.
"We are embarrassed that it happened. I guarantee those people will be watched, and it will not happen again," said Don Frenkel, the General Manager of the Pensacola Interstate Fair.
Operators aren't allowed to use their cell phones at The Greater Gulf State Fair either, but they are allowed to use their iPods.
LOCAL 15 Investigator Jenna Susko asked Pat Repp, "And that's not a safety issue?" Repp responded, "Well I suppose it is, but what he's doing is changing the music."
Repp now says he will reconsider the policy and may require operators to wait until after the ride stops to change the music.
As for the ride operator we caught texting, Repp said, "I'm glad you brought it to my attention. It's not something we condone here and it's going to be addressed."