Stuck at the top

Four hundred and twenty feet above Lake Erie, Tony Florida and his two sisters found themselves thoroughly thrilled. Sitting in a roller coaster that swayed at the slight breeze off the water, the Top Thrill Dragster had come to a rolling halt at the crest of the hill for a few seconds. Then, it stopped. Florida couldn’t believe his luck. He had heard rumors about this particular coaster before. Usually, the car would roll back on the track and shoot the riders up and over the hill. But not this time. ‘There’s a moment of awe because you don’t really expect to sit there that high,’ he said. Fifteen minutes passed as the crowd stared at the car that had paused for dramatic effect. When the ambulance pulled up below, Tony’s sister, Andrea, started to panic. ‘What if it doesn’t recognize that there’s another car up there, and they send another one up? What if the brakes don’t work?’ she thought as she put her head down between her knees in the seat. Soon, Tony noticed someone riding up the elevator next to the track. The door opened and the mechanic inside stuck his foot out to tap the back of the coaster. His slight push was all the car needed as it flew down the tracks and finished its course. Andrea and Tony have a theory about why their car hit a snag. ‘Sometimes it doesn’t make it all the way up because the weight in the car is so evenly distributed,’ Andrea said. Four years later, Tony and Andrea still relay the details of the story to their friends. Robin Innes, director of public relations at Cedar Point, would say that they are one of few. Although Cedar Point doesn’t have statistics about exactly how many riders get stuck, he said it ‘doesn’t happen very often’ and that the maintenance at Cedar Point is up to speed. ‘We check them every day during the off-season as well as 24/7 during the summer,’ he said. Every coaster must be inspected and licensed by the state before it can open each summer, so being injured or worse on any ride is as likely as being struck by lightning or bitten by a shark. From 1987-2000, Ohio has only had three fatalities in amusement park rides throughout the state, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The study by the CPSC, ‘Amusement ride related injuries and death in the United States 1987-2000’ also reported that females have twice as many injuries as males. But the ratio is small. Out of all of those scrambling to throw their hands up and scream as they barrel down a hill at full speed, there are 20.8 people per million riders that ever have a problem. Tony hasn’t been on the Top Thrill Dragster since. But not out of fear. He just doesn’t have his own dragster to ride up from Pennsylvania.