PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The parents of an 11-year-old girl who fell to her death from near the top of a Ferris wheel on the Jersey shore said Tuesday that they believe a better restraint system would have saved her life.
Abiah Jones' parents, Byron and Twanda Jones, spoke Tuesday at a news conference at a Philadelphia law firm that has begun investigating Ferris wheel safety worldwide. Earlier in the day, they appeared on NBC's "Today" show to talk about what happened to their daughter. They said they haven't decided whether to file a legal action yet, but lawyer Larry Bendesky said he's looking into who could have been responsible for the girl's death.
The family says it wants to prevent other Ferris wheel accidents — and a better safety system is a key to doing so.
"Click it or ticket," Byron Jones said. "You have to wear a seat belt in a car. You're 150 feet in the air."
The tragedy happened June 3, when Morey's Piers in Wildwood was hosting groups from several schools. Abiah, just finishing fifth grade at the PleasanTech Academy Charter School in Pleasantville, N.J., was awarded the trip with her school because she had top grades, her family said.
While she liked the Boardwalk and the beach, it was her first time on a Ferris wheel, her parents said.
A preliminary state report issued on Monday found that she was alone in a Ferris wheel gondola and that the adjacent gondolas were empty when she fell from near the ride's peak, about 160 feet from the ground.
The report said a video showed part of her fall but did not show the beginning, which might have answered the key question: How did she come out of the gondola?
The state said the gondola had no mechanical problems, its doors worked properly and the railings around the seat were in sound condition. Someone could have fallen while kneeling or standing in a seat but probably not while sitting in it, the state report found.
The Ferris wheel, known as the Giant Wheel, was closed after the girl's fall and remains closed.
As part of Monday's report, New Jersey's Department of Community Affairs recommended two new requirements for Ferris wheels.
Morey's Piers says one of them — that children be at least 4 feet, 6 inches tall to ride alone — is already policy at its amusement parks. The other would set a minimum of two riders per car.
Will Morey, president of Morey's Piers and Beachfront Waterparks, said in emailed responses to questions from The Associated Press that the company would comply with the additional state recommendations but that he doesn't believe restraints are needed on Ferris wheels.
"They have very mild forces, and we believe that restraints are not necessary to counteract these mild forces," he said.
The parents of Abiah, the second of four children in the family, said she was a bookworm who was already talking about going to college.
Twanda Jones said she got a frantic call that her daughter was in an accident. As she rode with a cousin to Wildwood, she spoke with a school official when she heard what parents fear most.
"I asked them: Was she alive?" she said. "They told me, 'No.'"