Accident kills ride's owner

Island County Medical Examiner Robert Bishop videotapes a section of the Super Loop 2 Saturday, the ride that killed Paradise Amusements co-owner Doug McKay. - Matt Johnson
Island County Medical Examiner Robert Bishop videotapes a section of the Super Loop 2 Saturday, the ride that killed Paradise Amusements co-owner Doug McKay.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

For more than an hour Saturday afternoon the Island County Fair fell silent, after the co-owner of the fair's carnival died when struck by one of his own rides.

According to the Island County Sheriff's Office, it was just after 2 p.m. when Doug McKay, 40, climbed onto the platform of the Super Loop 2 to lubricate a portion of the ride's track. McKay, the co-owner of Paradise Amusements, attempted to make the fix while the ride was in operation. At some point, the ride's double-ended passenger cart -- which rides on a single vertical loop like a rollercoaster -- struck McKay, carried him more than 30 feet in the air, then dropped him.

Sheriff Mike Hawley said Saturday that the fatality was definitely accidental.

"This was clearly an accident," he said.

According to Island County Medical Examiner Robert Bishop, McKay likely sustained fatal head trauma at the time of the initial impact. After falling, McKay struck the ride several times before landing on his back over a metal fence. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Law enforcement and volunteers with Fire District 3 immediately cordoned off the area, then drove a number of vehicles into the accident scene to hide McKay's body from view.

The accident traumatized carnival workers and a number of children who were on the Super Loop 2 at the time of the accident. Many were spattered with McKay's blood.

Rob Volz, whose 12-year-old son, Dylan, was on the ride, was in the front of the car that struck McKay. Volz said he and Dylan's mother took the boy home to wash the blood off him as quickly as possible. Dylan Volz was one of about 30 children who saw the accident happen while on or near the ride. After the accident, they were gathered up by law enforcement and questioned for more than an hour.

Volz said he took his son home before the questioning was over. He said he believes authorities were insensitive by preventing the children from cleaning up after the accident.

Even with information from those interviews and other witnesses, the Island County Sheriff's Office did not have a conclusive scenario for McKay's death. While early reports indicated that McKay's arm or hair might have gotten caught in the ride, as of Wednesday, the sheriff's office had no conclusions.

"It is unclear which part of his body became entangled," said Jan Smith, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office.

Those who saw the accident had their own viewpoints. Jason Jelinek said he was about 100 feet away from the Super Loop 2 when he saw the ride hit McKay.

"The guy was leaning over and it hit him in the arm," he said.

While there was nothing to be done for McKay after the accident, FD3 volunteers did give trauma counseling to witnesses almost immediately after the accident. Darin Reid, the operations chief for FD3 at the fair, said district volunteers called in two counselors from Compass Health -- the county's public mental health provider -- and six from the South Whidbey School District.

Jason Porter, another witness to the accident, said he was impressed by FD3's actions.

"They were on it," he said.

Less organized was management of the scene. In the aftermath of the accident, one newspaper photographer was threatened by fair security, while another was ordered by FD3 personnel to turn over her camera and film.

Despite the tragedy, the show did go on at the Island County Fair. Music on the main stage started back up less than an hour after the accident, and the fair finished out Saturday as scheduled. On Sunday, Paradise Amusements reopened all carnival rides and games, with the exception of the Super Loop 2.

The fact that they did so was a fitting memorial to a man that fair emcee Jim Freeman called a friend. He said of all the carnival owners he has worked with over the years, McKay was the best.

"We've got a guy who lost his life for the safety of others," Freeman said.

Freeman said after the accident, he could see from the stage that the Island County Fair became "two fairs," the one before the accident and the one after. Having worked the stage for two decades, Freeman said this year's fair attendance was as good as ever until McKay's death. The incident started a mass exit of people Saturday afternoon that could still be felt Sunday, he said.

The state Department of Labor and Industries did investigate the accident, but determined that it did not have jurisdiction, since the victim was a business owner, not an employee.

Paradise Amusements, which is based out of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, has been in the carnival business for about 40 years. McKay had recently taken over co-ownership of the business from his father. Paradise has a three-year contract with the Island County Fair. The 2004 fair will mark the end of that contract.

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