BRANSON, Mo. — One year after a Silver Dollar City worker died testing the ride Thunderation, KOLR 10 Investigates has uncovered the theme park broke federal protocol in the accident that killed 31-year-old mechanic Joshua Outhouse.
Initial reports showed he suffered blunt force trauma to his head on July 20, 2022. Silver Dollar City’s internal first aid team responded inside the park before Josh was airlifted from Branson to Cox South Hospital in Springfield. He died from his injuries hours later.
Silver Dollar City never released his name, nor any circumstances surrounding his death. But a 110-page U.S. Department of Labor case file and a conversation with his parents helped fill in the blanks.
KOLR 10 Investigates obtained documents showing the series of events leading up to Josh’s untimely death. Findings indicate he was following orders from his manager at the time of the accident. The U.S. Department of Labor report says those orders violated federal protocol designed to protect workers.
Our team delivered a copy of the records to his mom and dad in Reeds Spring, about 15 minutes north of Branson. In exchange, Tammy and Rogar Outhouse shared memories between wind chime melodies on their back porch where Josh would often visit them on the weekends.
They showed us the edge of the yard where Josh had planned to plant a cherry tree and smiled about red wax remnants in their bathroom from a prank he pulled and blamed on his sister years ago. They laughed about how Josh would help out with errands around their house in exchange for a bowl of homemade potato soup. But mostly they cried.
“Oh I loved that boy,” said Tammy. “Matter of fact, you know what our last words was? ‘Love you, Josh.’ And he said, ‘Love me later’. That’s what he always said. Those were our last words.”
Shuffling through photos from his basic training graduation, they paused to remember Rogar’s beard blocking other parents’ view at the ceremony.
“That coin that he’s holding is for being top in shooting,” Rogar said.
One photo showed Tammy teary-eyed. She worried about losing her son in a tour of duty in Afghanistan. But Josh returned home from war and put his skills to use as a mechanic at Silver Dollar City.
“Excellent student,” his mom said. “He could remember anything.”
The young veteran is survived by his son and hundreds of friends and family. His parents recall more than 250 people showed up to his funeral last summer, leaving standing room only.
It began as a normal day at work for Josh. That morning, a Silver Dollar City customer complained the ride Thunderation was bumpy. The park closed the ride to the public and management instructed the Thunderation crew to take speed readings as the tracks go into the tunnel. That’s where the guest reported the ride was rough.
Josh was one of two employees sent inside the ride perimeter to measure the speed of the train, according to the OSHA findings. He had the speed gun. Documents show Josh’s manager instructed him to stand about six feet from the track.
His co-worker was on the opposite side of the track, checking for malfunctions and was not given a specific spot to stand.
The ride ran five times and each time Josh reported the ride’s speed to the maintenance crew. But the sixth time the crew tested Thunderation, Josh didn’t relay the speed. His colleague checked on him and found him on the ground with a massive injury to the right side of his head, lying closer to the track.
The report stops short of saying if it was the ride itself, or something else, that hit Josh in the head. Regardless, his family wants Thunderation decommissioned.
“It’s been a year and I know nothing more than the day he died,” Tammy said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It’s a horrible grief.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal entity created to protect workers, found this was the first time Silver Dollar City employees had to enter the ride perimeter to take speed readings.
OSHA requires employers to follow procedures to safeguard employees from hazardous energy releases. It’s a practice known as lockout-tagout or LOTO.
OSHA found Silver Dollar City had no measures in place to protect employees inside the ride perimeter, which violates the LOTO program. As a result, OSHA fined SDC more than $14,000. Josh’s parents think it’s a small price for their son’s life.
“I’m not someone who wants money,” said Tammy. “I just want the truth.”
Other Thunderation Incidents
KOLR 10 Investigates also got ahold of previous incident reports for Silver Dollar City’s Thunderation ride. They show just one other incident in the last five years.
According to eyewitness accounts from employees, in August 2019, a girl got off Thunderation crying and holding her neck. She received first aid from Silver Dollar City staff.
If you have a story you’d like KOLR 10 and FOX 49 Investigates to look into, email Investigative Reporter Lauren Barnas at email@example.com.