An Ohio government report has cleared Cedar Fair of any wrongdoing in an August 2021 accident where a metal piece of the Top Thrill Dragster coaster flew off and seriously injured a woman in the queue.
The 620-page report from the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Amusement Ride Safety was released Friday. It concluded, “After examining the documentation provided and conducting interviews of Cedar Point staff, ODA found no evidence that Cedar Point had knowledge of or reason to believe that the Top Thrill Dragster was in an unsafe condition that could cause a hazard to riders, employees, or the public on August 15, 2021.”
Top Thrill Dragster is one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the U.S., sending riders up 420 feet with a 120 mile per hour launch.
The report explained that the metal piece, called a “proximity flag plate,” came off the coaster’s green train and hit 44-year-old Rachel Hawes of Swartz Creek, Michigan in the back of the head. Evidence suggested that the piece punctured the queue area’s yellow sunshade, as a piece of yellow fabric was found in the plate. Hawes’s father, Robert Edmunds, who was with her at the time of the accident, reported seeing “piece of metal that looked like a black square” flying in the air.
Inspectors found that “bolts which secured the proximity flag plate to the train car had been sheared off as a portion of the bolts were still in the train car,” and that the five other coaster trains all had wear marks on their outer edges and the purple train’s plate was loose.
Cedar Point workers said inspections had not found any issues with the plate or the coaster in general in inspections the night before and the morning of the accident. Multiple employees responsible for the ride’s maintenance and operation reported that there no known issues with the plates, with one maintenance supervisor, David Owen Elswick, commenting, “you have to heat it [proximity flag plate] with a torch to break it off.”
The report does note that Cedar Point did not do the standard off-season overhaul procedures on Top Thrill Dragster before the 2021 season because the ride had significantly less than usual in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because this amended maintenance was cleared with coaster manufacturer Intamin, the ODA report “could not find that Cedar Point failed to conform to the manufacturer’s required maintenance procedures.”
Cedar Point said in a statement after the report’s release:
“Today we received the results of the investigation by the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Amusement Ride Safety & Fairs, which determined that ‘after examining the documentation provided and conducting interviews of Cedar Point staff, ODA found no evidence that Cedar Point had knowledge of or reason to believe that the Top Thrill Dragster was in an unsafe condition that could cause a hazard to riders, employees, or the public on August 15, 2021.’ Cedar Point has cooperated fully with ODA throughout its investigation into the incident and we will closely review the substance of ODA’s report.”
The Hawes family said a week after the accident that the victim was “fighting for her life.” Theme Park Tribune could find no more recent update about her condition. The Sandusky Register has engaged in an ongoing legal battle to force Cedar Point to release records from its police department about the accident.