Land of Illusion violated law by operating unlicensed inflatable slide, state says

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 4:05 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2021 at 7:03 AM EDT
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BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - A Butler County adventure park where a 14-year-old girl recently died shortly after she was pulled from the water violated state law by operating an unlicensed inflatable slide, an agency spokeswoman tells FOX19 NOW.

The violation is not related to the July 20 death of Mykiara Jones of Dayton, state officials tell us, but it comes as Land of Illusion Adventure Park and it’s water park, Aqua Adventures, is under increased scrutiny amid an ongoing investigation by the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

The park, located on Thomas Road in Madison Township, near Middletown, now faces a $500 civil fine for allowing guests to use the inflatable slide, said ODA spokeswoman Shelby Croft.

The state went to Land of Illusion on July 16 at the operators’ request for an inspection to license the inflatable slide and two other devices, a Euro bungee and rock wall, all of which operate on the ground, Croft said.

ODA determined the facility did not have the required documentation to complete the inspections and to receive licenses, so ODA told the park the devices could not operate, according to Croft.

The agency, however, then received a photo showing the inflatable slide was in use, she said. ODA released it to FOX19 NOW via a public records request.

Detective Dan Turner with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office turned the photo over on July 26 as part of their ongoing investigation into Mykiara’s death and into multiple complaints they received since about Land of Illusion, sheriff’s officials say.

According to the email Turner sent ODNR, the picture was taken by a member of the sheriff’s office IT Department at Land of Illusion on July 9. That is before the teen’s death, and the investigation began - and before state officials attempted to inspect the inflatable slide at the park.

State officials mailed a notice July 30 to the park’s general manager, advising him Land of Illusion has 30 days to request an administrative hearing to dispute ODA’s proposed action - the civil fine, according to Croft.

If Land of Illusion does not request a hearing, they would pay the proposed fine by default.

If park operators opt for a hearing, they will be required to bring an attorney since they are an LLC, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office would represent ODA, Croft said.

A spokesman for Land of Illusion, Michael McNight, sent the following statement to FOX19 NOW:

“Land of Illusion has fully complied with all Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) directives following recent inspections citing additional documentation needs for an inflatable slide and two brand new pieces of equipment. The inflatable slide in question – as well as the other new attractions – has not been operated or available to guests following the ODA inspection.

“Land of Illusion will respond to ODA to refute the misinformation. We also are actively working with product manufacturers to secure the necessary paperwork for submission to ODA.”

Later Tuesday, when we asked how long the slide was in use at the park, he responded:

“Since its opening, Land of Illusion has been in contact with state and local regulators to ensure that we are following all applicable regulations. We invited an inspector from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to Land of Illusion to inspect some new equipment before we put it in operation.

“At the time of the inspection of the new equipment on Monday, July 19, the ODA inspector informed Land of Illusion that a recent change in the law now required them to also inspect the blue slide, which is located on land, away from the water.

“ODA asked us for certain paperwork from the manufacturer of the slide and also asked that Land of Illusion not operate the slide until ODA was provided with the requested paperwork. Land of Illusion followed this request of ODA. The blue slide was taken out of operation on Monday, July 19 and remains out of operation. We are working with ODA to get them the requested documentation.

“The safety of our guests and team members is of utmost importance to Land of Illusion. We have always gone above and beyond what is required with respect to lifeguards and other aspects of our operation of Aqua Adventures. We are always looking for ways to improve. With the recent tragedy, we are reassessing to determine ways we may choose to go even further above and beyond what is required by Ohio law and regulations.”

ODA is responsible for licensing at amusement parks and water parks in the state.

The tragedy at Land of Illusion with Mykiara’s recent death, however, exposed what officials say is loophole: Ohio does not regulate inflatable slides and other devices on lakes.

“This is all we have the power to do over there,” Croft said.

Amusement rides inspected under Ohio law include mechanical rides, roller coasters, go-karts, water rides at water parks and inflatable devices on land.

The Butler County Sheriff’s Office says it has received several complaints about Land of Illusion and its water park since Mykiara died.

The investigation into her death and complaints about Land of Illusion that have emerged since remains ongoing, Sheriff Richard Jones says.

“The Ohio Department of Agriculture notified our office today of their investigation and determination with Land of Illusion,” the sheriff said. “As far as the fines go, I wish there was more hands-on investigation at this point by the state rather than sending Land of Illusion a notice in the mail.”

“The Ohio Department of Agriculture is sharing information from their investigation with us and we are communicating with them about our investigation, which is continuing. We are going to communicate our findings to the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office.”

Mykiara was not wearing a life vest at the time she vanished under the water, according to the sheriff’s office. She was under the water 30 minutes before water park staff brought her to the surface.

She was flown in a medical helicopter to Dayton Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office says the cause and manner of Mykiara’s death is pending and it may be several weeks before it is determined.

Customers at Land of Illusion are warned on the facility’s website they “SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK – attendants are not lifeguards.”

“Everyone also is required to wear a life jacket while using the Wibit or Paddle Board. You are encouraged to bring your own life jacket,” the website also states.

All park attendees also must sign a waiver - “all patrons 17 and under must have a parent or legal guardian. Everyone 18 and over must fill out their own waiver.”

Hours before Mykiara died, Butler County’s health department received an anonymous complaint alleging it was overcapacity and “unsafe and dangerous,” FOX19 NOW reported last month.

The complaint describes alleged conditions at Land of Illusions water park, Aqua Adventure, three days before Mykiara died.

It states:

“Was there on Saturday from 1-4 pm July 17th. Said that she felt that they were overcapacity. She said there was like 600 people there. There was no adult supervision for business. There was a group of teenagers running the whole place. The water slide was shut down. Kids were going in and out of the (adventure) ride using both ends. Kids were pushing other kids around. No one was trying to control the crowd. Felt it was unsafe and dangerous for people that were there.”

Health department officials went to Land of Illusion July 21 in response to the complaint and “also in response to a drowning that occurred” the previous day, county records show.

They made several other recommendations including hiring lifeguards and adding signs that warning people in the water need lifejackets, swimming alone is not recommended and children must be supervised.

The beach at Land of Illusion's water park, Aqua Adventure, in Madison Township.
The beach at Land of Illusion's water park, Aqua Adventure, in Madison Township.(Provided by Land of Illusion)

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