No one was watching a roller coaster at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo when a man fell from it and died on Sunday, even though industry standards call for rides to be monitored from start to finish, according to an event organizer and a safety consultant.
The ride operator looked away from the cars on the track of the Hi-Miler roller coaster at the time Brian Greenhouse fell 28 feet to his death, said Leroy Shafer, the event's chief operating officer.
"He saw the ride start the corner, he looked back down to the next ride loading and then he looked back up and heard people screaming," Shafer said. "When he looked back up the man wasn't in the car."
But according to industry standards that Texas ride operators are supposed to follow, the ride operator should have seen how Greenhouse fell, said Ken Martin, a Richmond, Va.-based safety consultant who specializes in amusement rides.
"The operator of that ride is mandated to view the entire course of the ride, either with their eyes, with another person or some type of monitoring system," Martin said. "Somebody should have been watching each and every car on that ride."
Shafer said the ride operator looked away from the cars for "maybe a second" when the incident happened.
No witnesses saw how Greenhouse, of Houston, fell and no one so far has been able to explain how it happened, Shafer said.
Greenhouse, 47, was sitting in the first car of the roller coaster when he fell and landed on a passerby, who broke his ankle. Greenhouse's fiancée was sitting two cars behind him.
"We just do not understand how he came out of the car," Shafer said. "And at this point, we have no witnesses who can explain how he came out of the car and inspectors are telling us they can find no instance of malfunction."
The safety bar and lap strap on the ride were in place when the ride ended, Shafer said.
"Everybody is in agreement that, when the ride came down, the bar was down and the lap restraint was down," Shafer said.
The Houston Police Department's homicide division is investigating the incident, HPD spokesman Kese Smith said.
Smith would not elaborate on what witnesses said they had seen because the probe is ongoing.
Harris County's Institute of Forensic Sciences is conducting an autopsy. It was not yet clear whether Greenhouse was intoxicated at the time of the incident, officials said.
Greenhouse had a 5-year-old son with his ex-wife, said the man's older brother, Michael Greenhouse.
"We are devastated," said Michael Greenhouse by phone from Santiago, Chile, en route to the United States from a medical mission trip in Argentina. The brothers spoke to each other last week.
Greenhouse was the second of five children and had worked at AT&T in Houston, his brother said.
Michael Greenhouse, of San Francisco, said he received word of his brother's death Monday morning. "He had so much to contribute. … He was a very God-loving, Christ-loving man. And, he really was loved by so many."
Greenhouse and his fiancee were likely sitting separately because two adults generally do not fit into the ride's cars, Shafer said. Greenhouse was about 5-foot-8 and weighed about 250 pounds, Shafer said.
Neither Greenhouse's fiancee, nor any other passengers interviewed by officials, saw how he fell, Shafer said. Two passengers who were sitting behind Greenhouse left immediately after the ride finished.
"The ride operator was trying to keep everyone there to get a statement from them, and these two people left immediately," Shafer said. "If they would come forward, we would love to talk with them."
The Hi-Miler roller coaster is owned by Ray Cammack Shows Inc., of Arizona, which has contracted to run the rodeo's carnival for 12 years.
The rodeo hires its own inspectors who check rides throughout the three-week event, Shafer said.
Safety consultants from the private firm Coulter and Associates "have inspected and reinspected this ride and they can find no mechanical malfunction," Shafer said.
Greenhouse's death was the first fatality at the carnival in at least 40 years, Shafer said.