Sandusky water park No. 1 rule violator

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The Kalahari Resort bills itself as the nation's biggest indoor water park. A review of state inspection reports suggests the resort has another, more-dubious distinction: the Ohio water park most frequently cited for safety violations.

The state agency that monitors amusement rides has taken disciplinary action against a water park six times since 2005, the year Kalahari opened. All but one of those cases have targeted Kalahari. The state has proposed that Kalahari's owners be assessed $64,500 in fines, but because of settlements, they have paid $5,500. Four of the five case files involving the resort have been closed. An administrative hearing is pending in the most recent case, which stems from an inspection conducted five months ago. The proposed fines in that case total $55,000.

Kalahari said its water park, which features 173,000 square feet of water slides, wave pools and play areas, is among the safest in the industry. Kalahari said all of its attractions meet federal and state standards. The resort, which draws an estimated 25,000 families each month, said it also exceeds the state's staffing and training requirements for lifeguards. Since the resort opened in May 2005, however, the Amusement Ride Safety Division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture has found numerous rule violations. In June 2005, a state inspector found violations involving nine of Kalahari's rides, including "excessive riders" on water slides and lax enforcement of height requirements.

A year later, the state cited Kalahari for operating a ride in a "careless and unsafe manner," after a collision sent a 10-year-old girl to the hospital with a head injury. An inspector said that the girl's raft hit an attendant who had climbed onto a water slide to retrieve a co-worker's visor. In September 2006, an inspector found a cashier serving as a lifeguard at a water slide. Regulations require a lifeguard to be on duty.

Last year, the state cited Kalahari for having too few lifeguards at some rides. Staffing was a problem again during Kalahari's most recent state inspection, conducted March 28. The resort was operating at or near capacity with 14 fewer lifeguards than required and two of the guards on duty had invalid certifications.

At least five lawsuits have been filed against Kalahari by people who say they were injured there. In a complaint filed with the Department of Agriculture last summer, a Newark woman said she broke her back on a water slide at Kalahari. "The lifeguards do not know how to handle situations like this," she wrote, adding that resort employees tried to lift her into a wheelchair despite her injury. "This situation needs attention." Carrie Leum, a spokeswoman for Kalahari, said any complaints about unsafe practices can be attributed to "disgruntled employees."

The only other Ohio water park to have been cited since Jan. 1, 2005, is the Beach, near Kings Island in Mason. The state found that it hadn't alerted the Department of Agriculture to an August 2007 water-slide accident.

Ohio's other water parks include Zoombezi Bay, part of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium; Fort Rapids, on Columbus' east side; CoCo Key in Newark; Wildwater Kingdom in Aurora; Boomerang Bay, near Cincinnati; and Castaway Bay, Great Wolf Lodge, Monsoon Lagoon and Soak City, all in the Sandusky area.