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Idlewild roller coaster to reopen with more safety restraints, 2 years after boy fell

Jeff Himler
| Thursday, April 12, 2018, 9:48 a.m.
The Rollo Coaster ride at Idlewild Park & SoakZone.
The Rollo Coaster ride at Idlewild Park & SoakZone.
Declan McClain, 3, of Jeannette fell from a roller coaster at Idlewild Park & SoakZone in Ligonier on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, suffering a head injury.
McClain family
Declan McClain, 3, of Jeannette fell from a roller coaster at Idlewild Park & SoakZone in Ligonier on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, suffering a head injury.

Idlewild and Soak Zone's wooden roller coaster will resume operation this season, nearly two years after a boy's fall, with a new passenger train that has improved safety restraints.

The 80-year-old Rollo Coaster has been closed since Aug. 11, 2016, when a 3-year-old Jeannette boy was thrown from one of its cars as it rounded a bend. Declan McClain fell 10 feet and spent nearly two months in a Pittsburgh hospital. He had a head injury, police said.

The new coaster train arrived last week.

"We are going through the process of doing the test runs over the next month," said Jeff Croushore, director of marketing for the Ligonier Township amusement park. "The state of Pennsylvania will have to recertify the ride. But at this point, we're not anticipating any issues."

He said the new train has seating for 10 passengers, two fewer than the previous one because of a difference in weight. But it has added seat belts and lap bars. Stationary grab bars were the only restraint on the previous passenger train.

In a report issued after Declan McClain's fall, state Department of Agriculture inspectors said riders on the train apparently switched seats, placing Declan next to his 7-year-old brother instead of paired with an adult, as required by park rules. Ride operators failed to notice the seating switch as the train left the loading station, the report said.

A ride operator told investigators that he properly seated the two boys, a third child and an adult.

The switch put Declan, who was 36.2 inches tall, in a car with his 7-year-old brother, who was 47.6 inches tall. Passengers must be 48 inches tall to ride alone or 36 inches tall to ride with an adult, according to Idlewild's website. Photographs released in the report show Declan leaning forward in his seat, hanging on to a stationary bar before he was thrown from the car around a bend. Investigators said the bar was covered with extra padding, making it thicker.

Investigators noted worn train hitches that may have allowed greater movement between cars and increased track gauges that may have caused movement that otherwise wouldn't occur.

The department required Idlewild to install passenger restraints on the ride cars, make changes in operator training, reevaluate rider height requirements and have an engineer evaluate the ride.

State officials "just asked that we make modifications to the existing train, but we decided to go the route of an entirely new train," Croushore said. "We went above and beyond what they were requiring."

Track renovations also went beyond the usual off-season maintenance since the ride was closed for more than a year, he said.

The new train was manufactured by Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, the firm that created the ride in 1938, Croushore said during his report Wednesday at the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce's annual tourism breakfast.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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