AKRON, Ohio — The piece of metal that struck a Cedar Point amusement park guest waiting in line for the Top Thrill Dragster roller coaster was about the size of “a man’s hand,” according to state investigations.
The accident has left 44-year-old Rachel Hawes of Michigan in intensive care with a brain injury, according to a family statement released to a Cleveland TV station.
“We are devastated by last weekend’s accident at Cedar Point,” the statement said. “We want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this time. Rachel is fighting for her life, and we would ask for privacy in this difficult time.”
The news came eight days after the horrifying incident at the Ohio amusement park that sent people in line scrambling for safety and Hawes seriously injured Aug. 15.
David Miran, the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s chief of amusement rides, announced Monday the piece that became dislodged is an “L-shaped” bracket attached to the back of the train car designed to look like dragster.
The bracket, which was attached by bolts, is supposed to hover just over the track and a series of sensors that keeps tabs on the coaster as it makes its way at breakneck speed up and over a 420-foot-tall hill in 17 seconds. The ride goes from standstill to 120 mph in just 3.8 seconds.
At some point in its descent, Miran said, the bracket came in contact with the coaster’s track and ripped off from the “green” coaster train and struck the woman in the head while she was waiting in line.
The investigation has found that half of the bolts that secured the bracket to the train body had also dislodged.
Miran said prior to Monday afternoon’s press briefing he contacted the woman’s family to update them on the status of the investigation into what went wrong with the coaster.
The state on Monday released the one-page initial incident report, which identified the victim as Hawes of Swartz Creek, Michigan.
The report said she had an “unknown type of head injury.”
The Top Thrill Dragster coaster at Cedar Point remains closed while the investigation continues. The park has already announced it will not reopen this year.
Miran said the steel track itself shows signs of damage where the bracket made contact as the coaster train made its way down the hill.
He could not speculate how fast the train was moving when the piece became dislodged but added it was likely at the ride’s “maximum” velocity.
Coaster passed state ride inspection in May
Prior to the accident, the Top Thrill Dragster was last inspected by the state on May 14 and no major issues were found.
The inspection did, however, find some issues that needed to be upgraded to bring the ride into compliance.
Those changes included hydraulic upgrades, a hydraulic propulsion system upgrade and repairs to black cherry car No. 2’s right rear lap-bar cylinder soft repair and a lap bar cylinder creep test.
Those upgrades were made and the ride was ruled compliant on May 15.
Cedar Point is charged with making daily inspections of its rides.
Miran said the green train’s car and other pieces of evidence have been sent to a lab for further investigation.
“This is a very complicated ride,” he said.
When it opened in 2003, Top Thrill Dragster was the tallest and fastest coaster in the world, but those records were surpassed in 2005 by the Kingda Ka coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey.
From the start, the coaster was plagued by issues that led to its frequent closings as the park grappled with its complicated hydraulic system.
There have been other incidents involving the coaster that led to injuries — though none as serious as the latest one.
Four guests riding the coaster were hurt in 2004 when they were struck by metal shards from a metal cable during the launch. None of the injuries were life threatening. And in 2016, two guests were injured when a launch cable detached from the coaster.
Follow Craig Webb on Twitter: @CraigWebb68