Monday, June 30, 2008

Six Flags story updated


Roller coaster reopens after fatal accident

Published on: 06/29/08

Six Flags Over Georgia officials expect to open the Batman the Ride roller coaster Monday morning, a spokeswoman for the park said.

The amusement park in Austell opens at 10:30 a.m. "We anticipate reopening the ride today," said Hela Sheth, a spokeswoman for the park.

Asia Leeshawn Ferguson died Saturday after he and another teenager scaled two fences and entered a restricted area. Ferguson was hit by the speeding roller coaster and was decapitated.

The ride was shut down Saturday after the accident.

An autopsy on the teenager is also scheduled for Monday, said Michael Cosper, operations manager for the Cobb County Medical Examiner.

Ferguson, 17, was traveling with members of the Oakley Spring Baptist Church, which was visiting the park from Columbia, S.C.

Phone call told parents of accident

The cellphone call came just as Asia D. Ferguson and his wife, Letha, finished lunch Saturday afternoon at a picnic area beside the east parking lot at Six Flags Over Georgia, which they were visiting with a church group.

Letha Ferguson answered.

On the other end was David Jenkins, a cousin, with the news the couple's 17-year-old son, Asia LeeShawn Ferguson, had been in an accident. A horrific accident.

"Shawn," as family and friends called him, had been decapitated by the Batman the Ride roller coaster at the Austell park.

The speeding roller coaster struck the Columbia, S.C., teen as it sped through a restricted area that he and another teen entered by scaling two 6-foot fences, ignoring warning signs, police said.

On Sunday, Shawn Ferguson's relatives struggled to comprehend their loss as authorities continued their investigation and Six Flags officials prepared to reopen the 11-year-old ride Monday. It was shut down after the Saturday afternoon accident, though the park remained open.

"We're awaiting the results of the investigation. We're going to have someone investigate, too," his father said. "We're not blaming the park."

The elder Ferguson had a hard time finding the words during a cellphone conversation Sunday as he and his wife rode home with other Sunday School members from Oakley Spring Baptist, a church of about 200 members in Springfield, S.C. The 67 young people and adults had come to Atlanta on Friday to sightsee and hang out at Six Flags.

"It's really hard for me to talk right now," said Ferguson, also father to Shawn's brother, Jacolby. "I'm really upset. I lost my oldest son."

Leaving Shawn's body behind for an autopsy on Monday compounded their heartache.

"It's real tough," Ferguson said. "My wife is still crying."

Jenkins, Ferguson said, hasn't been in a mood to talk about what happened to his cousin and what led the younger Ferguson to take an apparent shortcut.

Ferguson himself is at a loss to explain it.

"You don't know what's in a teenager's mind," he said. "Teenage boys do what teenage boys do. Sometimes they make some good decisions. Sometimes they make some bad decisions."

He said his son — the fourth in line of Ferguson men named Asia — was never in trouble.

Shawn Ferguson was an average student and a rising senior at Columbia's W.J. Keenan High School.

Ferguson said his son loved PlayStation 3, working out with weights and playing basketball. He also was avid churchgoer, played the drums, sang tenor in the choir at Oakley Spring Baptist and had a love for both gospel and secular music, including rap.

"He didn't do anything wrong," Ferguson said. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Police said the teens had been inside the park earlier and were trying to re-enter without going to the front entrance. They did not identify the other youth.

They first scaled a decorative black iron fence that circles the entire park, then a chain-link one that encircles the ride. The fences are each about 6 feet tall.

The fences are posted with signs warning of a danger zone and a "restricted area" accessible only to authorized park employees, Six Flags said in a written statement.

The Batman the Ride roller coaster travels up to 50 mph as it takes riders ski-lift style upside down and on vertical loops, corkscrews and 11-story climbs.

Neither Ferguson's companion nor any passengers were hurt when the ride struck Ferguson.

His death is the second reported in connection with the ride since 2002, when a maintenance worker was hit in the head by a rider's foot as it passed overhead. The ride opened in 1997.