Storm puts scary into Ferris wheel ride
By Janet Lundquist email@example.com July 2, 2012 3:38PM
Paige Sandstrom, 10, right, and Olivia Sandstrom, 12, left, stand near where the Ferris Wheel was during the Taste of Joliet at Memorial Stadium in Joliet, IL on Monday July 2, 2012. Sister's, Paige Sandstrom, 10, and Olivia Sandstrom, 12, took a ride on the ferris wheel at Taste of Joliet Friday night, right before the storm rolled in. Apparently, Paige got scared of the storm while on the ride, unbuckled her seat belt and wanted to get off. Her sister Olivia grabbed her arms and held onto her for the rest of the ride so she didn't fall. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media .
Updated: August 4, 2012 6:18AM
Powerful wind gusts did not blow the Ferris wheel over Friday night at Taste of Joliet, despite some contrary reports, but they scared a girl on the ride so much she tried to get off — while her car was almost at the highest point.
The wind started to pick up around 9:40 p.m. Friday ahead of a strong thunderstorm, just about the time Paige Sandstrom, 10, and her sister Olivia Sandstrom, 12, boarded the Ferris wheel.
They were going to take one final ride while their mother, Dawn Sandstrom, watched REO Speedwagon perform.
Shortly after the girls left Dawn for the carnival, the band announced the storm’s imminent arrival. Dawn decided to go find her girls.
Meanwhile, the Sandstrom tweens were in line for the Ferris wheel.
“Paige was like, ‘I don’t want to go,’ ” Olivia said Monday. “I said, ‘Come on, it’s our last ride. Let’s just go.’ ”
They got on while Paige screamed in protest, Olivia said. Paige told the carnival worker she wanted to get off, but the worker moved their car along to let more people board, Olivia said.
Soon after, Joliet police and park district officials decided to evacuate the festival because of the approaching storm.
“Paige started screaming because other people were running around and screaming,” Olivia said.
Then Paige went a step further — she unbuckled her seat belt and slipped under the safety bar. She wanted to get off, she said, until she realized how high up they were.
While onlookers gathered on the ground, Paige nearly slipped off the car, which was perched high on the wheel. Olivia grabbed Paige’s arms and pulled her back up. The younger girl crouched on the foot rest until their car reached the ground.
“I looked up and my youngest daughter was hanging, suspended from the top of the Ferris wheel,” Dawn said. “I grabbed some guys next to me and said, ‘Please catch my baby. She’s going to fall.’ If she had fallen, I believe there would have been plenty of people to catch her. I want to thank all the people who were standing there with me.”
She also wanted to recognize Olivia’s quick action, Dawn said.
“I just think that this is something for all families to know, in a time like that the kids really do pull through for each other,” Dawn said.
Shutdown came late
Dawn took issue with the fact the ride was still operating while the storm was obviously approaching.
“I was really upset with the carnival. They knew the lightning was coming a half hour before. Why were they still letting people on the rides?” she said. “By the time I got the report the storm was coming in, the girls had already left for the carnival.”
The storm moved into Will County around 9:40 p.m. Friday, said Richard Castro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Romeoville.
“Lightning can strike out ahead” of the storm, he said, adding that wind gusts reached 87 mph at the Romeoville weather station. “There was definitely intense lightning with this, given how strong the storm was.”
Joliet Police Chief Mike Trafton said as soon as police and park officials made the decision to evacuate the park around 9:45 p.m., the carnival was shut down.
“People take off running. You try to tell them to remain calm. But after a while everyone calmed down. We got everyone out of there fairly quickly,” Trafton said. “I’m real proud of the way our guys handled it. It’s not like there’s this great advance notice.”
Trafton said he heard about the Sandstrom girls and the Ferris wheel from a couple of firefighters who were at the scene.
“I wouldn’t even say (she was) dangling, just trying to get out,” Trafton said. “No one fell. No one almost fell.”