LIST: SCHOOL CLOSINGS/DELAYS IN CHICAGO AREA

Back breaking rides? WGN Investigates water park safety after lawsuits filed over injuries

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It is painful to watch Mary Tucknott walk, sit and try to get up from a chair. She says she's in pain every day no matter what she does. Sleeping hurts, standing too long hurts. And it is the same with sitting too long. Everything is painful because she broke her back. She broke it at a place that should have been a thrill a minute for her and her niece. Tucknott and her niece jumped aboard a two person raft on the Splash Blasters ride at Magic Waters waterpark in Rockford.
Tucknott said she noticed the back support cushion on the raft was deflated as they took off.

Right out of the chute, Splash Blasters sends you down the water slide where you then hit a hump before careening into a tunnel. When Tucknott's raft hit that hump, she was tossed into the air and landed hard. Turns out, she'd broken her back.

If you can believe it, right after Tucknott went down and hurt herself, another rider hit the same first hump and also broke her back. Yet, that's not the end of the story. WGN Investigates found out there are at least a half dozen Magic Waters customers who have been injured on the Splash Blasters ride in the last two years. Yet the ride continued to run at Magic Waters.

Ted Wierbowski, a father from Schaumburg, went to the waterpark to have fun with his wife and daughter. A half hour after they arrived, Wierbowski found himself lying flat on the ground at the end of the Splash Blasters ride with a broken back. He too, claims the raft's back support was deflated and he landed exactly on that suspect first hump in the Splash Blasters ride. In fact, his wife went back to the ride a week later and took a photo of one of the rafts clearly showing the deflation.

WGN Investigates took these stories and tried to ask the Rockford Park District, which owns Magic Waters, why they hadn't shut down the Splash Blasters ride with so many suffering injury on it. A total of seven riders have sued claiming they were hurt on the ride. The attorney representing a few of those riders cannot understand why the ride was still open and running. Attorney Thomas Fabiano said it's like playing Russian Roulette every time someone goes on the ride.

As WGN Investigates dug further for answers, we found that the Illinois Department of Public Health and some counties inspect for water quality, but no one in Illinois appears to be looking at the safety records of rides in water parks. Not just Rockford's Magic Waters, but at any water park in the state. The state Health Department approves a ride's design, but often transfers inspection authority to the county.

We found, the department of health in Winnebago County where Magic Waters is located, only has a checklist for things like water quality, temperature, cleanliness, lifeguards and proper paperwork. No one is watching how safe a ride is once it's installed and running. That's the danger gap. With 170,000 visitors expected to Magic Waters in a year, that's a gap where too many people could easily get seriously hurt.

Mary Tucknott and Ted Wierbowski are suing hoping to have the ride where they were hurt, shut down. It took a while but they got their wish. After their injuries, their lawsuits and questions from WGN Investigates, the County suspended the license on Splash Blasters, effectively shutting it down.
Winnebago County has offered the Rockford Park District, which owns the water park, an appeals hearing about the pulled permit. The District hasn't responded to that.

In the meantime, the lawsuits are moving forward because the plaintiffs say they're suffering short term and long term bodily damage from the ride. All one needs to do is watch Tucknott, a once healthy, vibrant woman, now hobble with a cane, to see what the ride down Splash Blasters did to her.

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