A look back at tragic amusement ride deaths in NJ
It’s unofficially summer. We’re past Memorial Day and rides up and down the Jersey Shore are thrilling the masses along with amusement parks and carnivals being in full swing.
While the most infamous New Jersey amusement park was Action Park, mishaps and tragedies happened elsewhere. But the injuries and tragic deaths piled up so quickly there at Action Park it’s hard not to think of those first.
The Alpine Slide tragedy
It was one of the more famous attractions at Action Park. The Alpine Slide consisted of 2,700 foot tracks made of concrete that riders navigated on small scooters that had (or were supposed to have) a brake stick. They were often broken. 19-year-old George Larsson Jr. got one of those broken sticks and his scooter flew out of the track at high speed. His head hit a rock putting him into a coma then killing him.
The Wave Pool
Imagine a wave pool too deep and too crowded for its own good. One where the water grew so cloudy from human waste, sunscreen and blood from other Action Park wounds that you couldn’t see much beyond the surface. Lifeguards needed to shut off the wave machine every few minutes to scan for bodies. In 1982 15-year-old George Lopez drowned. A few years later another death; the drowning of Gregory Grandchamps.
In 1982, Action Park guest Jeffrey Nathan was killed on The Kayak Experience. A piece of equipment short circuited when he was tossed into the water and it electrocuted him.
This one happened less than 2 years ago at the Deerfield Township Harvest Festival. A carnival ride called Super Sizzler is a twisting contraption with rotating arms and cars that counter-rotate. On a Saturday night in October something went horribly wrong. 10-year-old Hailey McMullin went flying out of the ride. She was airlifted to Cooper University hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Back in 2008 there was a Bulgarian student named Stanislav Nikolaev Dragnev. He was a ride operator on the Jet Star roller coaster I’m Seaside Heights. That’s the same iconic rollercoaster that ended up in the ocean after Sandy. The 21-year-old went into a restricted area to try to fetch a fallen hat for a patron when he was hit in the head by one of the speeding coaster cars.
This ride at Great Adventure took the life of a 19-year-old Karen Anne Marie Brown in 1987. She was apparently still trying to secure her harness when the ride started. She fell out, was struck by the coaster then fell 75 feet to her death.
This was a tragedy that happened in Ocean City in 1999. A roller coaster called Wild Wonder had already started its journey when a car suddenly reversed direction. It came back and crashed into another car waiting its turn and injured two while killing a 39-year-old mother and her 8-year-old little girl.
While horrible and tragic, these incidents are far from common. According to a 2019 report, 385 million people had fun on 1.7 billion rides at over 400 North American fixed-site locations without incident. Your chance of being seriously hurt on a fixed-site ride at an amusement park in this country is 1 in 15.5 million rides taken. Well, since Action Park closed down anyway.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.