As the nation's amusement parks gear up for the summer season, owners are keeping close watch on the trial of Charles Stan Martin, the first amusement park manager in Tennessee (and perhaps the nation) to be accused of murder in a death involving an amusement ride.
Opening statements are expected Thursday, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.
The victim was June Carol Alexander, 51.
In March 2004, Alexander, her son and sister visited a Pigeon Forge, Tenn., amusement park and went on a ride known as The Hawk.
"I asked the gentleman three times to let us off, and he said, 'No, ma'am, I can't,' " says Alexander's sister, Judy Sprinkles.
"We went upside down and, at about 60 feet, her harness opened," recalls Alexander's son, Cody Alexander, who watched his mother fall to her death.
The district attorney alleges that the ride's safety system was bypassed, enabling it to operate even when passengers were not securely locked in, making Martin responsible for Alexander's death.
Says Al Schmutzer, District Attorney General of Tennessee's Fourth Judicial District: "We do have to show that it was a knowing killing and that he was aware that his conduct was reasonably certain to cause death."
He's charged Martin with second-degree murder and reckless homicide.
Martin's attorney, Bryan Delius, calls the charges outrageous.
"He wasn't there when this happened," Delius says. "He wasn't there when any incident related to this happened."
Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, wants Washington to take over amusement park ride safety regulation from the states: "Right now, families are playing roller coaster roulette. They have no way of knowing if there is a safety standard in any state that they are taking their children to."
The amusement ride industry opposes federal rules, insisting that fatalities are rare, about four per year out of 300 million riders.
Copyright 2005 CBS. All rights reserved.