May 6, 2003 -- Extra warnings will be posted on amusement rides after a little girl apparently choked to death on gum or candy during a high-speed rollercoaster ride at Six Flags Great America in Illinois.
Erica Emmons, an 11-year-old from Gary, Ind., visited the park in Gurnee, Ill., on Saturday with her two sisters, two cousins and an aunt.
The girl climbed in the ride called "Raging Bull", the tallest and fastest roller coaster at the park. It stands 20 stories high, and boasts a top speed of 73 miles per hour.
Moments after the 2 ½ minute ride ended, Erica collapsed. Paramedics, who are stationed at the park for emergencies, could not revive her. The coroner concluded the cause of death was almost certainly a "choking episode," caused by a piece of taffy or gum during the ride.
No Gum or Candy Allowed
Six Flags Great America already posts signs that say the consumption of food and beverages are prohibited on rides, but will now be more explicit. "All signage at every ride will be expanded to include specific verbiage regarding the prohibition of food, beverage, candy and gum," a statement from the company said.
At the school she attended in Gary, Erica's loss was deeply felt.
"One of the best and brightest, an honor roll student," Noble School Principal Lucille Washington, said. "She was the perfect child to be around. Just a wonderful person."
The consumer Product Safety Commission has put out statistics that more than 8,000 people end up in hospital emergency rooms due to amusement park ride injuries every year.
Cautions for Parents
Brett Witter, author of Carnival Undercover, said that a high speed roller coaster, combined with chewing gum or candy can certainly cause a person to choke.
"A roller coaster like Raging Bull will probably have like four times the force of gravity," Witter said. "It can really make you suck in your breath and choke — on a piece of gum, in this case. Or it can cause blackouts temporary fuzziness in your vision."
If you have a blackout, you might also choke on something, he said. But the blackout would last one second, tops, and would normally occur on the bottom of a big dip in the rollercoaster, that had a twist.
"It would be so short that no damage would be done," Witter said. "But obviously, accidents can happen."
Another warning for parents: watch the height requirements, he said.
"The signs at those rollercoasters — the warnings are real and people should pay attention to them,"Witter said. "If you are a large size or a small size, obviously there are risks involved with the harnesses."