Amusement Park Tragedy: A Family Changed Forever
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKRC) - The mother of the 18-year old killed when a ride snapped at the Ohio State Fair is speaking out about her son's death and Ohio laws, which she says are unfair.
Those laws may shield the state and the manufacturer of the ride from facing a liability in the deadly accident.
Local 12's Duane Pohlman has been investigating and sat down for an extended, one-on-one interview with the 18-year-old’s mother, Amber Duffield.
From the moment the Fireball fell apart in July 2017, Amber said she knew her son, Tyler Jarrell, was dead.
She said her life was shattered that day—not only by the ride that snapped—but by what she calls “Ohio's broken laws.”
Every day, Amber visits her son’s grave.
"He was my son, my baby,” she said.
At home, she writes to her son in her journal:
I feel as if I can't breathe from this loss. I feel as if I will explode.
It all began on July 26, the opening day of the Ohio State Fair and that now-infamous moment when the Fireball snapped. Seven people were hurt, most of them badly. Tyler was killed.
"I said, ‘No. That's my son!’…Somehow, I knew," Amber said.
From the moment news broke from the fair, Amber sent a flurry of un-answered text messages to Tyler. She saved them: “Slim call mom now” and "I have to know you are okay."
There was no response.
Amber said she and Tyler were incredibly close.
"He began my day. He ended my day…and he was in the middle of my day,” she said.
Hundreds of photos reveal some of those moments as Tyler grew.
“He had transitioned from that chubby, baby face to getting that young man, Man-of-the World look to him because of his choices that he made,” Amber told Local 12.
Those choices centered on service. In middle school, Tyler volunteered for the Columbus Police Explorers program. The week before he died, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
Protecting others, Amber says, is what her son was all about. But, Amber could not protect Tyler.
On that awful night, Amber finally called the fair's first aid station.
“I said, ‘This is Tyler Jarrell's momma.’ She said the highway patrol will be in touch.”
When troopers arrived, a heart-wrenching reality was brought home.
“I was beating my chest, going, ‘Tell me where my baby is! Tell me!’ and that's when the highway patrol man [said], ‘Ma'am, he's not coming home.’”
Amber said when it comes down to who to blame, that gets a little tricky.
“It's a lot of pieces to that puzzle of responsibility,” she said.
After an extensive investigation, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, along with the Dutch manufacturer of the Fireball, KMG, concluded excessive corrosion caused the catastrophic failure.
A bystander's photo is part of the investigation report, clearly showing a crack in the very spot where the Fireball fell apart just minutes later.
“How could this ride have possibly been turned on?” asks attorney Mark Kitrick, who represents Tyler’s estate. “This was a tragedy because of multiple errors by multiple parties.”
But, because the tragedy happened in Ohio, Kitrick says some of those parties are protected by the state law. That includes the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which inspected and passed the Fireball on the very same day it snapped.
“Basically, the state has immunity for most actions,” Kitrick explained.
And another Ohio law, called the Statute of Repose, protects the manufacturer from liability after 10 years. The Fireball was in use for 18 years before it snapped.
“Statute of Repose is a limitation. It's a big wall—barrier. If you want to go past that wall in a certain time, good luck,” said Kitrick. “It's a pro-corporation, anti-consumer law.”
Congressman Steve Stivers is familiar with that law, because in 2005, as a state senator, he sponsored the legislation that created it.
In his office outside the U.S. Capitol, Stivers told me it's time for Ohio lawmakers to re-examine the statute.
“I would urge my state legislative colleagues to re-look at the Statute of Repose,” Stivers said.
For Amber, any adjustment to Ohio law will not affect her case.
“I think my state has let me down,” Amber said.
And nothing will bring her son back from the moment the ride snapped and tore her world apart.
“I'm still broken,” she said.
KMG’s attorney said the ride had no flaws, and he defended Ohio’s statute that protects manufacturers, but he said he needed to check with KMG before giving an official statement.
After three weeks and more than a dozen emails and calls, he finally said he was sorry but he couldn’t participate in the story.
So, where does the legal case stand at this point? We know an agreement was reached last week between some of the victims and some of the parties, but there is no official settlement yet.
Tyler's girlfriend, Keziah Lewis, was beside him on the Fireball and was injured at the same time.