SHREWSBURY -- A 38-year-old mentally retarded man was killed and two other disabled residents of a group home were injured after a carnival ride apparently malfunctioned yesterday at a popular church fair attended by hundreds of people, including many children, authorities said.
"It was hideous," said Kathleen Madaus, 44, of Shrewsbury, whose 11-year-old daughter watched the man fall from the spinning Sizzler ride while waiting in line for another nearby ride at the St. Mary's Family Festival. "It was just really a nightmare, with children crying and mothers crying."
One of the cars was visibly damaged. Pieces of wreckage, the same color as the damaged seat, could be seen on the ground. Police last night declined to release the names of the victims or comment on how the ride came apart at about 2:15 p.m. in the parking lot behind St. Mary's Church and parochial school on Summer Street.
Local police said inspectors are investigating whether the man who died and the man who was injured had somehow entered a car on the Sizzler ride that operators had previously designated as broken.
"We're following up on that information," said Shrewsbury Police Chief Wayne Sampson. He said that a ride operator was giving a statement to officers at the police station.
Witnesses told reporters that both men fell and one was struck by another car of the still-spinning ride as he tried to stand. Authorities would not confirm that account.
The woman who was injured was apparently in another car. But authorities didn't make it clear last night exactly how she was hurt.
State officials described the injured as a 48-year-old man, who was admitted with serious injuries to Worcester's UMass Memorial Medical Center, and a 43-year-old woman, who was taken to Worcester Medical Center's emergency room, apparently with minor injuries.
The three victims had gone to the fair with four other residents of Shrewsbury's Glavin Center, a residential facility for 61 people with mental or physical disabilities, said Donna Rheaume, a spokeswoman for the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Two Glavin Center staff members supervised the outing, a typical activity for the group home's residents, she added.
The accident is being investigated by local police, the Worcester district attoney's office, the state Department of Public Safety, and the state's Disabled Persons Protection Commission, Rheaume and other officials said.
The ride, which has three rotating arms, each with four rotating sets of two-seat cars designed to evoke classic 1950s automobiles, is owned by Jaro Amusements of Carlisle.
Jaro's owner, John Keough, confirmed his company owned the ride, but declined to comment further until state officials complete their investigation.
The Sizzler, also known as the Scrambler, has critics who complain that the one-size-fits-all safety bar does not adequately restrain children and smaller bodies.
In May, a 7-year-old girl was killed at an amusement park in Rye, N.Y., after she fell from a similar ride. In January, a 6-year-old girl suffered serious head injuries after slipping under the bar of a Sizzler ride in Australia, according to news reports. In July 2002, a 9-year-old girl was seriously injured after falling from a Sizzler in West Islip, N.Y., according to www.rideaccidents.com, a website chronicling more than 30 years of carnival accidents.
The rides have also been known to malfunction.
Last month, a piece of a Sizzler flew off and hit a woman in Ansonia, Conn., the Associated Press reported. Witnesses said a car footrest caught on the ride's platform, tore off, and flew into another car, hitting the woman, who was riding with her children. In December 2000, in another accident in Australia, the arm of a Sizzler flew off, throwing a 30-year-old woman and an 8-year-old boy from the ride at full speed. Both were seriously hurt, and six other people were injured as well, according to the website.
Shayan Daneshmand, 12, of Shrewsbury, said he had just gotten off the Ferris wheel and was headed for the Sizzler when he saw a man fall out. "He actually fell off and his head hit the ground really hard," Daneshmand said. "I think the ride was still in motion."
The man who died yesterday had lived at the Glavin Center since 1993 and worked in the housekeeping department at a hotel in Sturbridge, officials said.
"He was a big Red Sox fan and had a great sense of humor," Rheaume said. "He loved community outings and was well liked by staff and the Glavin community."
Grief counselors will see residents today at the center, she added.
The accident occurred little more than an hour after the annual fair, which had been rained out on Saturday, reopened yesterday. More than 200 people were present, some slurping snow cones, devouring fried dough, and enjoying rides such as a giant slide and a carousel. The fair, which opened on Friday, has for many years raised funds for St. Mary's elementary school.
"The people of St. Mary's parish, all our family and friends, are in a state of prayer," said the Rev. Paul O'Connell. "It's tremendously frightening to us."
Carrie Howland, 44, of Shrewsbury, went on the Sizzler about 20 minutes before the accident with her 6-year-old daughter. "The ride seemed fine; it wasn't wobbly or anything," said Howland.
Globe correspondent Paysha Stockton contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.