Inflatables' owner says misuse had role in death

The owner of an inflatable amusement facility where a 5-year-old boy died Monday says the child's fall was the result of customers misusing the equipment.

"It was really an unfortunate accident, a freak thing," said Duane Zogleman, owner of Moonwalks For Fun Inc.

His company holds licenses for the building and equipment inside Pure Entertainment, an entertainment complex near Kellogg and Tyler.

Five-year-old Matthew Branham of Goddard died Monday after falling from an inflatable ride at the facility and hitting his head on a coated concrete floor.

Zogleman said he was not at Pure Entertainment when the boy fell. But accounts that he pieced together from witnesses, including members of the boy's family who were with him, point to people using equipment improperly, he said.

According to Zogleman, the child and several older family members were on or near an inflatable unit known as King of the Hill during the facility's "open bounce" session Monday morning.

Zogleman described the unit as about 40 feet long and 18 to 20 feet wide, and flat except for a "bulge" in the middle. It is surrounded by an inflatable barrier about 2 feet high, he said.

People playing alongside the boy that day included Matthew's mother, grandparents, a 17-year-old boy and a 21-year-old woman, Zogleman said. At some point, the 5-year-old flew over the barrier around the ride and landed on the floor outside it, he said.

"The unit wasn't used in the manner it was intended," Zogleman said. "We want everyone to know exactly what was going on. It's been a one-sided thing."

Police investigating the incident confirmed that family members were on the inflatable and that "the child did fall from the toy," said Tom Stolz, Wichita deputy police chief.

As of Friday, however, police had not talked to family members. Stolz said detectives planned to talk with them this week.

Todd Shadid, a Wichita attorney representing Matthew's parents, said the family did not want to make a statement Friday. "Right now they are just dealing with the loss of their son," he said.

A private funeral service for Matthew Branham was scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Evangel Assembly of God in Wichita.

Misuse is dangerous

Amusement industry experts say inflatable rides can be safe. But when they are misused or used by people unfamiliar with safety guidelines, they can be very dangerous, said Jim Barber, spokesman for the National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials.

"You see more injuries on inflatables than almost any other amusement ride you can think of," Barber said. "More than roller coasters."

Most injuries on inflatables happen because users "try crazy stuff," said Barber, who has more than 30 years' experience inspecting rides.

Adequate supervision — making sure inflatables aren't too crowded and those playing on them aren't too risky or aggressive — could prevent many injuries, Barber said.

It is especially dangerous, he said, for users of vastly different ages and weights to bounce on an inflatable simultaneously.

"When you've got large adults or teenagers on there at the same time as a smaller child, you have to be extremely careful," he said. "Big kids run into smaller kids. And that air has to go somewhere, so the whole ride bounces and moves."

Barber said his group suggests that every ride be monitored by a trained attendant whenever it's in operation.

"There's a whole lot to it, and the attendant has to be attending the ride. He or she has to pay attention to that ride at all times."

Many states, including Kansas, don't regulate inflatable amusements or require a one-to-one ratio of attendants to inflatables.

No employee saw fall

Zogleman said attendants trained in safety were working inside Pure Entertainment on Monday, but that no one was assigned specifically to the King of the Hill unit. No employee witnessed the fall, he said.

Employees saw the family jumping together on the ride, he said, but no one stopped them because the business encourages families to jump together.

"We want people to be responsible and help monitor their own kids," Zogleman said.

"We encourage them to take their shoes off and jump with their kids or grandkids at no charge, because we want them to share the experience and the fun. It's a nice, clean, safe environment to have fun together."

Pure Entertainment features a lounge with a license to serve alcoholic beverages, but Zogleman said that no alcohol was being served Monday morning. The bar is open during some parties and events but not all hours of operation, he said.

Saturday reopening

After being closed Friday for the funeral of Matthew Branham, Pure Entertainment reopened Saturday and hosted at least three children's parties. At 11 a.m. there were about 40 children and 30 adults in the facility.

Seven inflatable rides were operating; a Pure Entertainment attendant monitored each one. The King of the Hill ride, the inflatable from which Matthew fell, was not visible in the bounce area.

Last week's tragedy "was just unbelievably bizarre," Zogleman said, adding that it should not reflect on the safety of his business or inflatable amusements in general.

"We've been involved in inflatables for 35 years," he said. "We've had hundreds of thousands of kids use our inflatables and never had a situation or accident.

"I just want a fair shake from the public," he said. "Because anyone that's actually been there and seen it has seen the joy and the smiles on the kids' faces and how concerned our employees are to make sure everything is safe and fun."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle