Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure

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For other uses, see Haunted Castle (disambiguation).

Haunted Castle at Six Flags Great Adventure was a haunted house attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson Township, New Jersey. On May 11 1984, eight teenage visitors were trapped and killed when the structure was destroyed by fire.

Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company Six Flags were subsequently indicted for aggravated manslaughter, accused of recklessly causing the deaths by taking inadequate precautions against a fire. In the subsequent trial, the prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke alarms had been ignored. The defendants denied any culpability, and contended that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives. The trial jury found the defendants not guilty.

Operation

The purpose of the Haunted Castle walk-through dark ride was to entertain its customers by frightening them. Exterior decorations included plastic monsters, skulls and other features meant to create a frightening atmosphere. A facade of false turrets and towers lent the illusion of height to the one-story structure, completing the look of a forbidding medieval castle. After crossing a drawbridge over the surrounding moat, visitors entered the castle and felt their way along a 450-foot-long convoluted path of dim corridors, occasionally being startled when employee actors dressed as Dracula, Frankenstein and other creatures jumped from hiding. Various theatrical props and exhibits were in view, including coffins, ghoulish mannequins, hanging spider webs and skeletons. Strobe lights and eerie sounds completed the scene.[1]

Construction and history

Originally constructed of four aluminum highway trailers when it opened in 1978, the castle was expanded to 17 interconnected trailers in 1979.[2] The castle was actually two side-by-side attractions of the same kind, with separate corridors and a common control room in the center. Only one side, with 9 of the 17 trailers, was in use at the time of the fire.[3]

During the subsequent criminal trial, the Jackson Township fire inspector testified that he had never inspected the castle.[4] The township considered the castle a "temporary structure," even after it had been at the park for five years, based on the fact that the trailers were on wheels.[1] The castle lacked a building permit or certificate of occupancy, and had no sprinklers or alarms despite repeated recommendations for them by the park's own safety consultants.[6]

Materials

The castle's aluminum trailers were linked by plywood partitions to create a complex maze. Attached to its exterior were painted turrets and towers of plywood on wooden frames. Inside, the materials used included foam rubber, various fabrics and plastics, plywood and tar paper. Wax mannequins were used as props.[7][8][1]

The fire

The fire started at 6:35 p.m. on a Friday evening. Fanned by outside air conditioners that continued to push air up through the floor vents, it spread rapidly due to the use of flammable building materials.[10][1] About 29 people were in the attraction when the fire started. Fourteen, including four park employees, escaped. Seven were treated for smoke inhalation at an area hospital. Eight teenagers from one group of nine that entered together were trapped and killed by asphyxiation.[12] The sole survivor of the group was carried to safety by a park employee.[13]

One witness, whose group entered the attraction three to five minutes behind the victim group, later testified that when she reached a display called the Hunchback, she saw flames coming from around a bend beyond the display. She thought it was part of the show, but then smelled smoke and realized the flames were real. Her group started yelling "fire!" and ran back to the entrance, bumping into walls.[14]

Firefighters from 11 surrounding communities responded, and the fire was declared under control at 7:45 p.m. The park remained open during the fire, and closed at 8 p.m., two hours early.[15][1] No one realized that lives had been lost until later that night, when firefighters searching one of the burnt-out trailers discovered the bodies, thought at first to be mannequins.[10]

The investigation

The fire spotlighted a complex collection of local, state and Federal laws. New Jersey's Department of Labor and Industries inspects the safety of rides, such as roller coasters and ferris wheels. Locally, municipalities enforce state and local building codes governing fire safety and electrical wiring. In turn, the state's Department of Community Affairs is responsible for ensuring that municipalities enforce the codes. Finally, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for monitoring employee safety. A state panel investigating the fire said that the regulatory system had failed at almost every level; and that the Haunted Castle had been in violation of a dozen state fire codes.[18][19]

The panel said the state's Uniform Construction Code[20] required the owners to install smoke detectors and several other common safety devices before the castle opened. A spokesman for the local volunteer fire department said it had not enforced the state requirement for smoke detectors because the township's building inspector said that the code did not apply because the castle was a temporary structure.[18]

Eight days after the fire, a statement by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said a 13-year-old boy had called the police after hearing radio reports that investigators were looking for witnesses. The boy told the police that he had been befriended by a 14-year-old boy at the castle's entrance. He said the older youth, who appeared to be familiar with the castle, offered to guide him through. He said the older youth used a cigarette lighter to find his way down a long corridor that was dark because of a malfunctioning strobe light, and eventually bumped into and ignited a foam-rubber wall pad. The prosecutor exonerated the older youth, who has never been identified, of any criminal wrongdoing.[12]

Legal aftermath

On September 14 1984 a grand jury in Toms River, New Jersey, indicted Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company Six Flags on a charge of aggravated manslaughter, for "recklessly causing the deaths under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life." The indictment also charged two park executives, the general manager at the time of the fire and his predecessor, with manslaughter for reckless conduct in ignoring repeated warnings of safety violations.[23]

The criminal trial began in New Jersey Superior Court in Toms River on May 29 1985. The prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke alarms had been ignored. The defendants denied any culpability, and contended that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives.

The prosecution called as witnesses fire-prevention consultants who had inspected the castle and recommended the installation of sprinklers or smoke alarms; and told the trial jury that after five years of semiannual inspections, the devices were not in place when the attraction burned.[24] Shift managers of the attraction called as witnesses testified that "none of the exit lights were working, bulbs were missing from other lights and there were no fire alarms, despite a history of patrons' using matches and cigarette lighters in the dark corridors"; and that their pleas for safety precautions had been rejected by management as too expensive. They also testified that a ripped "crash pad" in the corridor had exposed foam rubber padding.[25][26][24]

The boy who had come forward as a witness during the initial investigation repeated what he had told investigators earlier, testifying for the prosecution that he had seen another boy his age, a boy he did not know, accidentally set the fire with a cigarette lighter by brushing its flame against a foam wall pad. According to news reports of the trial, no such boy was ever found, and no other witness testified to seeing such a boy. Under cross-examination by the defense, the witness denied starting the fire himself.[28]

The defense denied any culpability, saying that company executives had carefully considered all safety recommendations, acting on some and rejecting others; and contending that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives in a fire where an accelerant was used.[29] A defense forensic pathologist said arson might be the cause, saying that "high levels" of benzene in the victims' blood "could indicate some sinister reason for the fire." However, another defense witness said there were no burn patterns or other evidence of an accelerant.[28]

Park officials testified that smoke alarms had been installed, but the park was unable to control vandalism to them and decided not to reinstall them after 1979. A park official testified that having an employee assigned to walk continually through the attraction was a good alternative to the smoke alarms.[31] A top fire-safety official testifying for the defense said that sprinklers and smoke detectors might have saved part of the structure, but would not have saved lives because by then "you would have had lethal combustion products throughout the facility", suffocating the victims.[32] His testimony was later criticised by other fire-safety experts as undermining efforts to advance sprinkler legislation.[33]

The jury, after an eight-week trial and 13 hours of deliberation, found the two companies not guilty of the charges. Interviewed after the trial, the jury foreman blamed Jackson Township officials for repeatedly allowing the castle to slip through cracks in the fire code. A second juror disagreed, saying that township officials were not derelict. Both jurors held the two companies blameless because they had been told by township officials that they needed no permit or sprinklers.[1][35][36]

The two park executives charged separately with manslaughter avoided trial and possible imprisonment by entering a pretrial intervention program that allowed them to perform community service.[37]

The families of those killed filed civil suits against Bally Manufacturing, the owner of Six Flags; Six Flags; and the castle's builder, the Haunted House Company of East Orange. The suits charged manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter.[38] One such suit was settled for $2.5 million in December 1985.[39]

Safety improvements

Immediately after the fire, several other New Jersey haunted-house attractions were closed pending fire inspections, including the multi-trailer "Gates of Hell" attraction on Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, built by the same company as the Haunted Castle.[40] New Jersey and other states passed new fire-safety laws for dark rides and "any structure that intentionally disorients".[1][42]

Park attendance fell sharply for the rest of the year, finishing 15 percent below the 3.3 million of the year preceding. Park officials said pre-fire attendance levels were restored the next year after they reassured the public that the park was made safer by the addition of $5.2 million worth of sprinklers and computerized smoke and heat detectors, while industry sources have reported that ensuing poor attendance almost caused the park to close in 1987.[43][1]

The victims

  • Joseph Beyroutey, 17, Paterson, NJ
  • Nicola Caiazza, 18, Paterson, NJ
  • Jose Carrion Jr., 17, Brooklyn, NY
  • Tina Genovese, 15, Williamstown, NJ
  • Christopher Harrison, 18, Brooklyn, NY
  • Eric Rodriguez, 18, Brooklyn, NY
  • Lenny Ruiz, 17, Brooklyn, NY
  • Samuel Valentin Jr., 17, Brooklyn, NY

Questioning the report

An independent film titled Doorway to Hell? The Mystery and Controversy Surrounding the Fire at the Haunted Castle was produced in 2003 by Peter James Smith, a long-time patron of the castle. Smith's documentary questions the official report's finding that the fire was accidental. He speaks of an "emotionally disturbed" youth with a history of setting fires who "kept playing with a lighter in his pocket", and says the youth was seen exiting the Castle as the fire broke out, questioned but not charged.

Smith also says that two earlier visitors on the day of the fire reported seeing a chained exit door, but were not called as witnesses. He further says that diagrams of the castle and its exits used in the trial were inaccurate, and did not show a metal fence erected to protect employees from hostile guests, something that would have made escape more difficult.

See also

References

1. ^ Joe Costal. "Fire at the Haunted Castle (excerpted from Amusement Park Crisis Management)", Haunted Attraction Magazine. Retrieved on 2006-11-18. 
2. ^ "GREAT ADVENTURE'S SISTER PARK INSTALLED SPRINKLERS", New York Times, 1985-06-21. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
3. ^ "SPRINKLERS NOT SOUGHT, ATTRACTION BUILDER SAYS", New York Times, 1985-06-01. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
4. ^ "FUN HOUSE NEVER INSPECTED, TOWN FIRE INSPECTOR TESTIFIES", New York Times, 1984-07-16. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
5. ^
6. ^ "FIRE SAFETY WAS WEAK AT 6 FLAGS, EXPERT SAYS", New York Times, 1985-07-13. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
7. ^ "OFFICIAL RECALLS CODE VIOLATIONS AT THEME PARK", New York Times, 1985-06-16. Retrieved on 2006-11-21. 
8. ^ "State Fire Marshall's Advisory", Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, 1999-06-03. Retrieved on 2006-07-29. 
9. ^
10. ^ "CAUSE SOUGHT IN BLAZE FATAL TO 8 AT JERSEY PARK'S HAUNTED CASTLE", New York Times, 1984-05-13. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
11. ^
12. ^ "BLAZE FATAL TO 8 LINKED TO LIGHTER", New York Times, 1984-05-19. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
13. ^ "WORKER AT GREAT ADVENTURE CITES DELAY IN REPORTING FIRE", New York Times, 1985-06-06. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
14. ^ "GIRL TELLS COURT ABOUT ESCAPING FUN HOUSE FIRE", New York Times, 1985-06-13. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
15. ^ "8 PEOPLE KILLED, 7 HURT IN BLAZE AT THEME PARK", New York Times, 1984-05-12. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
16. ^
17. ^
18. ^ "PARK-FIRE INQUIRY FINDS THE SYSTEM FELL SHORT", New York Times, 1984-05-19. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
19. ^ "REPORT IN JERSEY FINDS PARK FIRE WAS AVOIDABLE", New York Times, 1984-09-27. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
20. ^ New Jersey Uniform Construction Code, 3-page summary PDF
21. ^
22. ^ "BLAZE FATAL TO 8 LINKED TO LIGHTER", New York Times, 1984-05-19. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
23. ^ "AMUSEMENT PARK OWNERS GO ON TRIAL FOR FIRE THAT KILLED 8", New York Times, 1985-05-17. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
24. ^ "PARK FIRE AN ACCIDENT, BOY TESTIFIES", New York Times, 1985-06-12. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
25. ^ "HAUNTED CASTLE MANAGER SAYS HE REPORTED PERILS", New York Times, 1985-06-07. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
26. ^ "3 EX-PARK AIDES SAY SAFETY PLEAS WENT UNHEEDED", New York Times, 1985-06-04. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
27. ^
28. ^ "BADEN CRITICIZES INQUIRY BY JERSEY INTO PARK FIRE", New York Times, 1985-07-12. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
29. ^ "CLOSING STATEMENTS TO JURORS ARE MADE IN PARK FIRE TRIAL", New York Times, 1985-07-19. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
30. ^
31. ^ "FUN HOUSE PATROL CALLED A SUBSTITUTE FOR ALARMS", New York Times, 1985-06-27. Retrieved on 2006-12-18. 
32. ^ "VALUE OF SPRINKLERS DISPUTED", New York Times, 1985-07-10. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
33. ^ "FIRE SAFETY OFFICIAL CRITICIZED FOR TESTIMONY ON FATAL JERSEY BLAZE", New York Times, 1986-02-23. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
34. ^
35. ^ "FOREMAN OF JURY BLAMES TOWN FOR SIX FLAGS FIRE", New York Times, 1985-07-23. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
36. ^ "GREAT ADVENTURE JUROR ABSOLVES TOWNSHIP IN FIRE", New York Times, 1985-07-28. Retrieved on 2006-11-20. 
37. ^ "CHARGES DROPPED IN SIX FLAGS CASE", New York Times, 1985-03-08. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
38. ^ "PARENTS SEEK $2.6 BILLION IN SUITS OVER DEATHS OF 4 IN BLAZE AT PARK", New York Times, 1984-06-13. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
39. ^ "Settlement in Fire At Park in Jersey", New York Times, 1985-12-21. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
40. ^ "'HAUNTED HOUSES' INSPECTED", New York Times, 1984-05-20. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
41. ^
42. ^ "JERSEY FIRE PANEL TO SUGGEST AMUSEMENT-PARK IMPROVEMENTS", New York Times, 1984-09-23. Retrieved on 2006-11-10. 
43. ^ "PROSECUTOR FACING LEGAL TEAM IN TRIAL ON PARK FIRE", New York Times, 1985-07-15. Retrieved on 2006-11-11. 
44. ^

External links



Haunted Castle may refer to:
  • The Haunted Castle, a 1921 silent film
  • Haunted Castle, a 2001 IMAX movie
  • Haunted Castle (arcade game), 1988 arcade game and part of the Castlevania series.

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haunted attraction or dark attraction is a venue which simulates the experience of visiting a structure or outside space that is inhabited by what appear to be supernatural beings, such as ghosts or spirits.
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Six Flags Great Adventure

Six Flags Great Adventure logo Location Jackson Township, NJ, USA

Website Six Flags Great Adventure
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Six Flags (NYSE:  SIX ) is the world's largest chain of amusement parks and theme parks and is headquartered in New York City. There are 20 such parks run by Six Flags.
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Criminal law
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Recklessness is wanton disregard for the dangers of a situation.

It can in certain cases be seen as heroic - for example, the soldier fearlessly charging into battle, with no care for his own safety, has a revered status amongst some.
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Criminal law
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dark ride or darkride is an indoor amusement ride consisting of a vehicle and animated scenes. Leon Cassidy of the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company invented and patented the single-rail dark ride in 1928.
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Middle Ages form the middle period in a traditional schematic division of European history into three "ages": the classical civilization of Antiquity, the Middle Ages and Modern Times.
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A castle is a defensive structure seen as one of the main symbols of the Middle Ages. The term has a history of scholarly debate surrounding its exact meaning, but it is usually regarded as being distinct from the general terms fort or fortress in that it describes a building
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drawbridge is a type of movable bridge typically associated with the entrance of a butt the term is often used to describe all different types of movable bridges, like bascule bridges and lift bridges.
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moat is deep, broad trench, usually filled with water, that surrounds a structure, installation, or town, normally to provide it with a preliminary line of defense.

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theatrical property is any object held or used on stage by an actor for use in furthering the plot or story line of a theatrical production. Smaller props are referred to as "hand props". Larger "props" may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table.
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Mannequin (alternately, manikin, mannikin, manakin, dummy, lay figure, or The Mannequins). The word comes from the Dutch word manneken, literally meaning 'little man'. Mannequin is the French form.
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strobe light or stroboscopic lamp, commonly called a strobe, is a device used to produce regular flashes of light. It is one of a number of devices that can be used as a stroboscope.
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semi-trailer is a trailer without a front axle. A large proportion of its weight is supported either by a road tractor or by a detachable front axle assembly known as a dolly. A semi-trailer is normally equipped with legs which can be lowered to support it when it is uncoupled.
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