Casting a note of sorrow on a spirited Florida Seafood Festival were a pair of mishaps that blurred the joy of the annual affair.
Mechanical failure on The Sizzler ride at the festival Friday night sent several people to Weems Memorial Hospital, including one young man flown by helicopter to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital with leg injuries.
Apalachicola Police Officer Ginger Creamer said something went wrong with the operation of the Sizzler ride sometime after 8 p.m., and more than a dozen fairgoers were affected, ranging in age from 5 to 20. Most were transported to Weems and some went by private vehicle to Sacred Heart on the Gulf in Port St. Joe.
Weems’ emergency medical service had several units quickly on the scene to handle the injured. Fortunately, none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, and most of those affected was treated and released.
Like all of the 20 or so rides at the carnival, the Sizzler was inspected prior to the festival’s start by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Ride Inspection, as per state law.
John Solomon, president of the board of directors of the festival, said an inspector was on site first thing Saturday morning, and after re-inspecting all the rides, gave the go-ahead so that the rides would be opened as scheduled at about noon, following the enormous parade through the middle of Apalachicola
“Safety concerns are our highest priority,” said Solomon. “We’re going to take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We’re very upset that it happened.”
Already, lawsuits have emerged from the incident. A spokesman for DOACS said the investigation is ongoing, even nearly two months after the incident.
While not directly connected with the festival, a head-on collision at the base of the St. George Island bridge Saturday afternoon took the lives of two motorists and injured four others, all of whom had taken part in the parade earlier that morning.
The bridge was shut down all afternoon, cutting off travel to and from the island. One of the opening acts for the headliner Rodney Atkins had to be transported from the island by boat to be able to make their gig.
Killed in the accident were Robert J. Majka, Sr., 70, of Lynn Haven, father of the Bay County manager. Majka was driving a 2013 Ford Edge southbound towards the island when he crossed the center line and struck the left front of a 2007 Ford Escape driven northbound by Deborah J. Roberts, 53, of Franklin, Ohio.
Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts and both suffered fatal injuries.
Majka’s wife, Kathleen A. Majka, 68, of Lynn Haven, suffered serious injuries and was airlifted to Bay Medical Center in Panama City. A second passenger, Kathryn E. Benner, 65, Panama City Beach, suffered critical injuries and was also rushed by air ambulance to Bay Medical Center. A third passenger, Edward Benner, 63, of Panama City Beach, was in serious condition and transported to Weems Memorial Hospital.
A passenger in Roberts’ vehicle, Suzanne P. Gelser, 57, Springboro, Ohio, was transported to Weems in serious condition.