GREENVILLE — The Darke County Fair Board voted unanimously to approve a contract with Tampa, Florida-based company Prime Time Amusements, LLC at a special meeting Wednesday night. Prime Time will provide rides, games, and other amusements for the 2018 fair. The board’s contract with the company will bring at least 10 new rides to the fair, along with games, cell phone charging stations and diaper-changing areas, and possibly even a circus.
The fair board officially announced the move on their Facebook page early Thursday morning. The announcement has led to some controversy, however.
According to an article on the Raleigh, North Carolina-based news site WRAL from March of 2016, former Family Attractions Amusements manager Joshua Gene Macaroni (now partnered with Prime Time Amusements) was sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to charges related to an incident where members of a family were injured on one of Macaroni’s rides. The incident took place at the 2013 North Carolina State Fair. An Associated Press story from August of 2016, meanwhile, states that worn-out equipment was blamed for a ferris wheel accident in Tennessee that injured three young girls.
“[Josh] now hires an independent ride inspector to be on site during all events, including The Darke County Fair, so that every precaution is taken in keeping people safe,” a post about Macaroni on the Darke County Fair’s Facebook page reads.
Some commenters on the fair’s page were not satisfied with this, however.
“Guess my kids will be very disappointed. They will not be riding rides this year!” Ashley Yount, of Greenville, commented in response to the Darke County Fair’s post. “I only let my kids ride rides from companies that I trust and know are safe!”
Fair Manager Brian Rismiller responded in more depth to concerns about Prime Time, and Macaroni, on Friday.
“Josh wasn’t even in the state when the incident in North Carolina happened,” Rismiller said. “His ride was used in his mom and dad’s event, and the operator of the ride was charged in connection with the incident as well.”
Rismiller stressed that though Macaroni pled guilty via an Alford plea, he did so on the advice of his attorney, not as an admission of fault in the case.
“An Alford plea doesn’t mean you’re guilty, and it doesn’t mean you’re not guilty,” Rismiller said. “It means you’re acknowledging that enough evidence exists that you might be convicted.” If convicted, Macaroni might have faced up to three months in prison and a much larger fine, according to Rismiller.
Rismiller also stated that Kissel Brothers, the company which has handled rides for the fair since 1982, actually has more safety incidents on its’ record than Prime Time or Macaroni. Triple Treat Amusements, one of the other contenders for the County Fair contract, has had safety violations as well.
“That’s not to say anything bad about either of those companies,” Rismiller said. “But these incidents happen. We looked into everything, and we’ve got numerous good references for Prime Time.”
Board members were enthusiastic when announcing their contract with Prime Time Wednesday night.
“This year we will have the biggest ride line-up our fair has ever seen,” the fair board announced in a press release issued Wednesday. “Our carnival will bring us a new spread of extreme adult and young adult rides, including several that go upside down, and a swing tower ride called ‘Cloud 9’ that will take riders 120 feet into the air.”
Individual board members were open about their decision-making process.
“We’ve met numerous times to discuss this. It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Rismiller said. “We considered three different companies, but this is the one we decided to go with.”
Board member Doug Martin was also enthusiastic about the choice.
“This company’s got spectacular rides, and this fair’s never seen a spectacular ride,” Martin said.
The board’s contract with Prime Time will extend an additional two years beyond 2018, provided board members choose to continue the relationship.
“We’ll be releasing a list of the exact rides we’re getting on April 1st,” Rismiller said. “The company’s goal is to bring in new rides continuously each year.”
Fair board president Dean Neff said that representatives from Prime Time will be coming to the fairgrounds between now and April to measure the property and determine precisely which rides they’ll have room for this year. Rismiller also confirmed that the new company will continue to offer early and discounted ticket sales, and that they will continue to honor old Kissel Brothers tickets for one year.
As for Kissel Brothers itself, Rismiller had only positive things to say about the company.
“This was a bittersweet decision for us in some ways,” Rismiller said. “We continue to appreciate everything Kissel Brothers has done.”
The fair board also debated signing a three-year contract with a new company called Etix for electronic ticket sales during Wednesday’s meeting. Neff, in particular, was supportive of the move.
“If we’re going to go with a different ride company and get bigger and better rides, I think we should also get bigger and better with what we’re doing to sell tickets,” Neff said. “We talk about how we’re the Great Darke County Fair. We need to step up.”
The board ultimately voted to move forward with Etix. The measure passed by a margin of 8-3.
The writer may be reached at 937-569-4315. To join the conversation and get updates on Facebook, search Advocate 360. For more features online, go to dailyadvocate.com