11-year-old girl loses scalp in spinning carnival ride

By Lindsey Bever

Elizabeth Gilreath is in critical condition after an accident on a carnival ride at a local Cinco de Mayo Festival in Omaha, Nebraska. Sourced 11th May 2016 from Facebook https://www.facebook.
Elizabeth Gilreath is in critical condition after an accident on a carnival ride at a local Cinco de Mayo Festival in Omaha, Nebraska. Sourced 11th May 2016 from Facebook https://www.facebook.

Seconds after Elizabeth Gilreath slipped from her seat on a spinning carnival ride at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Omaha, Nebraska, her long, red hair was sucked into the ride's machinery, family members said.

For several minutes, they said, the 11-year-old girl was whipped around - until her scalp was ripped from her body.

"She was tortured," her father, Timothy Gilreath, told reporters, according to NBC affiliate WOWT.

Elizabeth was rushed to a hospital in critical condition at the weekend and has undergone several surgeries over the past few days to help reattach her scalp, according to reports. She is expected to survive.

But, her father said: "They don't even know if the muscles will work and my daughter will be able to see again."

Nebraska state investigators are looking into the incident that occurred while Elizabeth was riding the spinning King's Crown.

Grace Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Labour, told the Washington Post that an initial investigation showed no indications that the ride had malfunctioned. The ride was shut down following the accident. The Cinco de Mayo Omaha festival ended on Monday.

Witnesses told CBS affiliate KMTV that it appeared that the girl's hair got caught on one of the crown's points, peeling back her scalp. A friend stood up, according to WOWT, and started screaming: "Stop the ride! Stop the freaking ride!"

Elizabeth lay bleeding on the ride's floor, according to reports.

Surveillance video shows the ride's operator running from the scene, though it's possible he may have been going to get help, according to reports. As the ride began to slow, a bystander, Jolene Cisneros, ran up to stop it.

"It was still spinning; I had to stop it with my hands and turn it to the point where it was to the platform," Cisneros told WOWT. "I was like, you're going to be okay, and she's just like, 'Where's my pretty hair?'"

Cisneros added: "I wanted her to live. Please don't let her pass. My prayers are with her. I want her to know that she's loved and cared about and it's going to be okay. She's still here with us, and I'm grateful for that."

Since the accident, Elizabeth's mother has shared horrific photos and pleas for prayers on social media, showing Elizabeth - called "Lulu" by the family - in a hospital bed, with stitches holding her scalp in place.

"Lulu is such a amazing and outgoing little girl," her mother, Virginia Cooksey, wrote on Facebook. "She has to make it threw (sic) this; she want to be a senator when she grows up. She loves to read and learn. She loves her family dearly.

"Please family and friends keep lulu is your thoughts and prays on this mother's day."

Cooksey said she wants those responsible to be punished.

Nebraska's Amusement Ride Act states that rides must be inspected by the Department of Labor when the rides are first set up and then at least once a year to ensure they are still grounded and running correctly.

Johnson, with the Nebraska Department of Labour, told the Post that state inspectors checked the ride on April 20 and found no reason not to issue a permit. State law stipulates that ride owners must maintain liability insurance for personal injury.

Although investigators did not find evidence that the ride had malfunctioned, Johnson said that investigators are checking to see whether restraints were used and whether there have been similar incidents reported with that ride.

She said investigators also do not believe the ride's operator was acting negligent. "The ride was stopped when the operator noticed there was a problem," she told the Omaha World-Herald, adding that rides do not stop immediately, so as to prevent additional injuries.

St Paul, Minnesota-based Thomas Thomas Shows, which provided the rides for the carnival, said that it is also investigating the incident.

"Thomas Thomas Shows values the safety and health of our guests above all else, and we are saddened by this accident," manager Katie Weddleton said. "The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Thomas Thomas Shows are with the young girl and her family during this extremely difficult time."

Officials with Cinco de Mayo Omaha did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During a news conference this week, Elizabeth's mother held up a poster showing her daughter's post-surgery picture - a warning, she said, to others about the dangers of carnival rides.

"I took these pictures after her surgery, and this is my Lulu," Cooksey said, according to WOWT. She added that her daughter is known for her long, red hair.

"This is one of her favorite things," she said. "She loves her hair."

Cooksey posted on Facebook Monday morning, thanking those who have shown support for her daughter. "Lulu is a amazing little girl," she wrote. "She will be overwhelmed with joy when she wakes up to know how much everyone is caring about her. Please keep praying for my baby girl."

- Washington Post

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