Centennial grad hospitalized after Rhode Island circus accident

Centennial grad hospitalized after Rhode Island circus accident

Samantha Pitard, a Centennial High School graduate in her second year with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey, remains hospitalized in Rhode Island, two days after an accident during a hair-hanging stunt injured her and other performers.

"I am happy to say that she is doing reasonably well and is up and walking around," her father, Wayne Pitard, director of Spurlock Museum and religion professor at the University of Illinois, said in an email exchange this morning. "She has been overwhelmed by the support she has gotten from folks in C-U (and around the world). I think that is all she would want me to say at this point."

Pitard has been with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey for 18 months, starting out as a clown before taking a role with the Medeiros Troupe this season.

"As news spread about the accident, her Facebook page exploded with messages," her dad wrote. "At our house, we got e-mails and phone calls from concerned friends from across the country."

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, told The Associated Press the circus inspected all of its equipment on Monday night when it loaded up in Providence and planned another inspection when it unloaded in Hartford.

Investigators suspect a snapped clip, which they found broken in three pieces on the ground, is to blame for the accident that occurred during a Sunday morning performance before 3,900 people, many of them children. The carabiner clip was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that suspended the performers, who were dangling by their hair.

When the clip snapped, the women fell 20 feet or more to the ground, and the apparatus landed on them.

Relatives and rescuers say the women suffered injuries including a pierced liver, neck and back fractures, broken ankles and head injuries. Four of the women were in serious condition and four were in good condition Tuesday morning, according to Rhode Island Hospital.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare stopped short of saying the carabiner was the cause of the accident. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is trying to make a final determination.

Feld said Monday that it did not know why the carabiner failed, and that it is replacing each one in the show before the next performance, on Thursday in Hartford. The hair act will not be performed there, the company said.

The equipment has been used dozens of times per week since the beginning of the year, and a circus crew had installed it last week, according to Payne. The crew told investigators the clip had been visually inspected before the show.

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