Family Wants More Ride Regulation

Almost a year after an amusement park ride severed both her feet, Kaitlyn Lasitter says it's "sad" that "it took my legs being taken from me" to have more attention called to the issue of amusement park ride safety. She and her family spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill as part of the latest push to put the issue on lawmakers' agenda.

The ride at the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Ky., was called the Superman Tower of Power, described as a "stomach-wrenching thrill ride that lifts passengers 176 feet straight up, pauses, and then plunges them down at 50 miles an hour." On June 21, 2007, 13-year-old Lasitter and her friends decided to experience the thrill.

When they were about 20 feet in the air, pieces of cable began beating against their necks, arms and faces. One of the 10 cables snapped, wrapped around Lasitter's legs and cut off both her feet.

An investigation by the state of Kentucky concluded, among other things, that maintenance workers at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom failed to properly care for and lubricate the 10 cables that lift the Superman Tower of Power. Eight months after the accident, the park shut down the ride.

Lasitter, now 14, has one reattached foot and one prosthesis. At Wednesday's press conference, she described her painful recovery, saying she "won't be the person I was before," and that she fears for her life when she gets in a car or steps into an elevator. "It's hard for me to live my days like I used to ... I'm not as carefree as a 14-year-old child should be. And that, that really sucks."

She also said she has trouble sleeping, frequent headaches and bouts of nausea. She will heal, but "I don't want to wait for 'eventually,'" she said.

Though states set and enforce their own inspection guidelines for the rides, there are no federal regulations that cover "fixed-site" amusement park rides such as the Superman Tower of Power. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., wants to change that.

"In 1981, a special-interest loophole was built into this bill, the 1981 budget," Markey said at the press conference, holding up a copy of the bill. "Inside of here, there is one page that repeals the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to regulate over the amusement park industry."

Markey said that, because of the loophole, the federal government is powerless to investigate accidents at amusement parks or put a system in place to facilitate information-sharing among states.

Markey pointed out that the CPSC does have authority over "more than 15,000 other types of other consumer products," including rides at traveling carnivals and fairs, but not rides fixed in place at amusement parks.

"In short, the federal government has no role if there is a huge accident on a roller coaster going a hundred miles an hour where children are injured in one state to ensure that it is inspected, that the safety problem is corrected, and the other 49 states are then warned that there is a problem," Markey said.

But he also charged that the amusement park industry is "using all of its power" to block a law change, a claim the industry's largest trade organization has denied.

The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions says the additional level of regulation is not necessary.

"The current [inspection] system works very well. The industry is very safe and regulated," David Mandt, IAAPA vice president of communications, told ABC News.

He added that it's "not a huge industry," so there is already "a tremendous amount of information-sharing" about topics, including safety issues through manufacturers' bulletins, industry Web sites, and distribution of news reports by industry organizations, such as IAAPA.

Between states, insurance companies and industry organizations, Mandt added, "there are many eyes regulating and reviewing ride safety."

Mandt said different states should be able to tailor their regulations to their respective needs, and that "there's no evidence that CPSC oversight would improve the outstanding safety record of the industry. And it could cost taxpayers millions."

But the current regulatory system doesn't go far enough for some parents.

Kathy Fackler, whose then-5-year-old son son lost part of his foot in a 1998 amusement park ride incident, said at the press conference that she was "appalled by the absence of public accountability" at the time of her son's accident, and that "10 years later, when I look at the national picture, I'm still appalled."

"If this girl's legs had been severed in a lawnmower accident, or an ATV accident, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would have investigated. If she were an employee of Six Flags, instead of a paying customer, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] would have investigated," Fackler said.

Fackler, who founded advocacy group Saferparks in 2000, says children, like her son and like Lasitter, are especially vulnerable, with children younger than 13 involved in half of ride-related accidents and three-quarters of falls and ejections from moving rides.

"Certainly, our hearts go out" to families like the Lasitters, Mandt said. "One injury is too many, and our industry is extremely committed to providing a safe, enjoyable experience." But he contends the odds of being hurt while on a ride are small.

"The chance of being seriously injured while riding a fixed-site ride in the United States is one in 9 million, and that's because of all the safety measures our industry goes through to make sure guests have a safe experience," Mandt said.

He cited 2005 industry figures which show more than 300 million visitors took more than 1.8 billion rides that year, and National Safety Council data that show for every million rides taken in the United States, less than one injury results.

For Lasitter, being one of those one in 9 million has "affected my life dramatically."

"I was in bed for 10 months," she said. "I won't have memories of my eighth-grade year, well, I will, but they're memories of me laying in the hospital. They're memories of me learning to walk again."

Though she is able to walk again, it's not without its challenges. Lasitter described how impaired normal teenage activity can be, such as hitting the mall with a group of friends.

"I want to be able to go to the mall with my friends, but I can't," she said. "You know, when I do, I have to have crutches or I have to have my dad there to hold my hand, or I have to have a wheelchair, just in case I get tired, which, I mean, I want to be a 14-year-old girl, you know, my parents at home, me shopping with my friends, and I can't do that right now."

Lasitter's parents, Randy and Monique, have quit their jobs to take care of their daughter.

"It's been a long 11 months at our house," Monique said, fighting back emotion, "and no one can even imagine, and it could have been your child. So, please don't let it be. Help us with the fight, that's all I'm asking."

Markey has secured a promise from the Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee chairman, with jurisdiction over this bill, that he will hold hearings this year -- possibly as early as this summer.

He first introduced similar legislation in 1999, and has reintroduced it several times since, but Mandt says it hasn't made progress "because members of Congress understand how much we already do to ensure safety; they agreed congressional oversight is not necessary."

ABC News' parent company, The Walt Disney Co., owns and operates amusement parks with fixed-site rides.