Rye carnival ride operator 'incompetent'

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A carnival ride operator was allegedly distracted and holding out a soft toy for patrons to grab onto as six-year-old Eugene Mahauariki slipped out of his seat and fell, a Victorian inquest has heard.

Eugene died in hospital after falling from the Cha Cha ride and hitting his head on the final day of the Rye Easter Carnival in April 2017.

The toy incident showed the ride's operator was incompetent and improperly trained when he was placed in charge, lawyers for the Mahauariki family have told the inquest into the boy's death.

Billy Paul, a carnival ride operator and trainer, was questioned as a witness on Wednesday. 

Mr Paul has worked for carnival company Wittingslow Amusements for more than 40 years and trained a man named Lucas, who operated the Cha Cha during Eugene's accident. 

Barrister Christine Boyle, representing Eugene's family, questioned Mr Paul about whether he believed Lucas was competent and trained to operate the ride that day.

"There has been evidence that Lucas was holding out a soft toy to distract the patrons, there's evidence he was doing so even after Eugene had slipped out of the ride," she said.

She asked Mr Paul, who was not at the Rye carnival when the accident occurred, if this meant Lucas was "distracted" and not competent. 

"At that time I would say he wasn't competent, when he was under my watch he was competent," Mr Paul, who appeared by video link from overseas, said.

Children riding the Cha Cha were required to ride with a responsible adult, over 130cm tall. Eugene was 132cm tall and was placed next to another child on the ride, who was 126cm, the court heard.

Mr Paul said he had reprimanded Lucas three times over issues including height, ensuring patrons were seated according to their weight, and leaving people on the ride too long.

"These are machines, they don't stop, if they are not treated with respect they will cause harm, which is ... why we are here," he said.

Wittingslow Amusements' barrister Stephen Russell read out Lucas' statement to police, given two hours after the accident, where he claimed to be properly trained.

"He said he checked heights of the kids, and loaded and secured them in their seats," Mr Russell said.

Mr Paul said it sounded like he told police he was acting responsibly, but questioned whether he had supervisors or assistants nearby.

He said he trained Lucas to set up and dismantle the Cha Cha, but did not sign off on any official documents allowing him to operate the machine on his own. 

More than a decade before Eugene's death, Mr Paul said he was asked by WorkSafe to modify a different Cha Cha ride after an incident involving a young child at strawberry festival in Wallan. 

He added horns, for riders to have between their legs, and an additional metal bar to the ride. Mr Paul was also tasked with fitting seatbelts to the Cha Cha ride in 2017, due to safety concerns after Eugene's death.

Wittingslow Amusements' owner Michael Wittingslow and engineer Hamish Munro, who inspected the ride five months before Eugene's death, have both refused to give evidence to the inquest.

The inquest before coroner Sarah Gebert will return on December 12.


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