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Theme park injuries go unreported in Texas

Theme Park Rides

Ten years ago (wow, I’m getting old) I wrote a series of stories about the safety record of San Antonio’s major theme parks — Six Flags Fiesta Texas, SeaWorld San Antonio, and Splashtown. I learned state officials keep a little-known database that tracks amusement-ride injuries in Texas.

The database isn’t perfect. The injuries are self-reported by parks, and there’s missing cases of devastating, bone-breaking injuries, as my story published today points out. And the injury reports are written by ride owners, so it’s their version of events.

Related: Telling stories with data: Police chases and drug smugglers on the Texas-Mexico border

Despite the limitations, the injury data can be an interesting starting point for someone who’s wondering, just how safe is my local theme park or carnival?

Over the years, B.J. Morris, the friendly amusement-ride administrator at the Texas Department of Insurance, has e-mailed me updates to the data. Meanwhile, the data geeks at the Express-News have been doing a good job posting public data online for readers to slice and dice. Last year, we posted a salary database of city employees and it was wildly popular. It got me to thinking, maybe I need to stop hoarding that ride injury database on my computer’s hard drive and put that puppy in the public realm.

Here’s the result: A database of amusement ride injuries that’s available to everyone. For the first time, you can go online and look up injuries by ride owner and injury type. Many reports describe minor bumps and scrapes.

But one thing that struck me was the sheer variety of painful ways people get hurt at theme parks and carnivals. One report describes a 10-year-old girl who got her finger caught in a gate at Six Flags Over Texas.

Her fingertip was amputated.

You can look up these records yourself and see what exactly goes wrong at your favorite theme park. Just keep in mind you might not be getting the whole story.