Victim gives troubling account of treatment after carnival accident
BOZEMAN, Mont. - A young girl and her family are speaking out for the first time after the girl was injured on a carnival ride at the Gallatin County Fair last week.
On Friday afternoon, 13-year-old Melissa Cotton was on a ride when a bungee cable reportedly snapped, sending her to the ground from about 15 feet up.
Melissa Cotton eagerly anticipated the Gallatin County Fair and its carnival.
But this year, she was met with an experience far from the fun with friends she expected. She told us how just minutes after being strapped into the "Power Tramp" ride, she heard a snap.
"I saw that I was going towards the ground," said Melissa Cotton, "And I was just, thinking, 'Please hit the mat, please hit the mat.' And I didn't."
The ride and the carnival it belongs to is run by North Star Amusements, independent from the Gallatin County Fairgrounds.
Cotton says it wasn't just the injury, but how she was treated immediately after that has her hurt and upset.
Melissa explained a carnival worker was, "Cussing and saying all these words. And he came up and held my back up and he was like, 'You're fine, you're fine, get up."
Bystanders soon stepped in to help her, calling her mother and an ambulance.
Melissa was taken to Bozeman Deaconess where doctors told her she has a broken pelvic bone.
It effectively slammed the brakes on Melissa's long held plans to be a cheerleader when she enters high school in the fall.
"I just got really upset because I've been working really hard for this," said Cotton.
Melissa's mother Erika recounted being called at work and learning her daughter was hurt.
"Fearing the worst because she was saying 'My back is really hurting, Mom,'" she said. "And I was just thinking, 'Oh my gosh.'"
That fear soon turned to anger as she heard eyewitness accounts about how her daughter was allegedly treated by the carnival worker, who was saying she hit the mat before the ground.
Erika said witnesses were, "Coming and saying 'No, that's not true. That is not what happened, we witnessed it- she never hit the mat.'"
She tells us she's putting decisions about potential action against the carnival on the back burner, instead focusing on helping her daughter recover.
As for Melissa, Friday's experience has soured her away from the carnival and she hopes employees will handle future incidents with more concern and respect.
"I definitely was uncomfortable with the situation when I was hurt," she said, adding, "I don't want anyone else to feel like that."
We went to North Star's offices after speaking with the Cottons for a comment, and was first approached by a man not wearing the standard "NSA" uniform.
He refused to identify himself or his position but spoke for North Star, saying they had no comment and that their insurance company was handling it.
When we went to knock on the office door a woman came out with the same story.
The man then became aggressive, approaching NBC Montana's Colin Cashin. He swiped at our reporter's camera and then shoved our reporter before promptly denying it.
NBC Montana's Grace Ditzler later identified the man as working for North Star Amusements. She spoke to him the day before.
We called North Star headquarters in Casper, Wyoming but weren't able to reach anyone.
NBC Montana reported the incident to fair manager Sue Shockley, who is now looking into it.