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Bad Santa

(Or How Country Faire Volunteers Rescued This Year’s Event from a Dangerous and Irresponsible Amusement Operator)

(This article is the result of over two hours of interviews with Country Fair organizers, first-hand reports, eyewitnesses, and parents of children who were involved.)

Like so many things in our community, the Rio Linda Elverta Country Faire doesn’t just “happen” and pop into being in Mid-September each year. It takes many volunteers hours upon hours of untold work, and sweat, frustration, and disappointment to pull it off. They begin planning shortly after the current year’s event ends. Every. Single. Year.

And let’s not forget, many of the people involved in planning the Country Faire also plan the Rio Linda Elverta Christmas Parade.

The 2020 event hit a snag with the introduction of COVID into our collective life. The plans that were made, the plans that were being made, and the plans that had yet to be made all came to a big ol’ stop.

And we sat in neutral. For about 15 months, we all sat and waited and wondered when life would resume, and get back to some semblance of normal. On June 15th, we got off the ropes, and we got back to work.

June 15th to September 18th is 95 days. There had been discussions, and plans, and predictions, and assumptions, but until June 15th, there was no real affirmation that the Country Faire would ever take place.

For weeks, former Honorary Mayor Kristin McCandless, Cheryl Cook, and Tabitha Worth worked the phones to book bounce houses and amusement rides and all manner of fun things for our community of kids to do… But she ran into roadblocks everywhere. Everyone was booked or wanted up to $5,000 -PER- Ferris wheel or Tilt-a-Whirl or bounce house or ZipLine.

Traditionally, the Country Faire takes place on the third Saturday in September. This year, Country in the Park at Cal Expo was also taking place. The final day of the Sacramento Farm-to-Fork Festival was also taking place on Saturday.

Everyone was booked solid.

After two local amusement operators pulled out with less than two weeks to go, the Country Faire organizers turned to “Sac Bounce“. They were available, and they had equipment ready to go, and they were local.

They had bounce houses, and jumpy castles and mega-slides and a bungee jumper and a rock wall, and a zipline!

And they were local. We like local. Local is good. #ShopLocal

While the Rio Linda Messenger cannot find any indication that “Sac Bounce” is licensed in Sacramento County, they have a street address on 32nd Street in North Highlands.

Screen capture from the Sac Bounce page on Facebook.

Sac Bounce was represented in this agreement by Mr. Chris Ellis.

Mr. Ellis is well known in Rio Linda, and indeed, all over the world. In 2020, he famously flew his powered paraglider aircraft into the power lines on M Street in front of RCI Plumbing… while dressed as Santa Claus.

Image courtesy California Highway Patrol

Ellis agreed to supply bounce houses, a rock wall, zipline, bungee jump, and other attractions to the Country Fair. He was paid a deposit of $5,600 and would get the remainder after the event was completed, which is standard, and which he agreed to.

Photo via Sac Bounce Facebook page

The agreement specified that he would arrive to set up his equipment at 5 am, in order to have the attractions up and operating by 11 am. He did not arrive until after 8 am.

Once they arrived, they set up a handful of bounce houses and inflatable slides. As they turned their attention to the zip-line, the blue inflatable slide began to deflate, and tip over. As it tipped over, it knocked over all of the metal barricades. It also dumped the children off who were already sliding down the slide. Nobody was injured. It was later revealed that the Sac Bounce employee who was manning the equipment had plugged the device into the incorrect generator, which then failed.

Once that crisis was mitigated, Ellis turned his attention to the Zip Line.

Photo via Sac Bounce Facebook page

Fun Zone Organizer Kris McCandless says “He had the cables running across the yard for hours. I had to have volunteers with orange vests stand and act like cones.” to prevent people from falling over the cables.

Once he had the zip line raised into the air, he got into the truck and moved it to adjust tension. When he did this, the zipline fell down to the ground and landed on a child riding a bicycle underneath.

Due to the questionable safety of the equipment and the lack of safety shown by the operator, It was at that point that Kris told him to stop what he was doing and that the zipline would not be used at all.

Right around 12 noon, seven hours after they were to have arrived and an hour after the equipment was supposed to be up and running, they began to work on the bungee jump attraction. Once the attraction was operational, the operator began allowing children to queue for it.

A young girl stepped up, first in line, and the operator strapped her in. It was at that point, before the girl could enjoy the attraction, that a California Department of Industrial Relations, Amusement Ride division (Cal-OSHA) inspector IMMEDIATELY stopped what was happening and red-tagged the equipment.

When the inspector spoke to Ellis and asked him to identify himself, he identified himself as “Robert Johnson”. His partner, Angela, who was also there, was carrying the insurance for the event. She reported her name as “Tina”.

After the Zip Line and the Bungee-jump were both shut down, Ellis demanded the balance of the payment from the Country Faire organizers. He was told no. He received the deposit and would receive the balance after the event was complete and after the amount was pro-rated due to multiple amusement rides being non-functional.

7-year old Kennedy on the left, and a very young attendant on the right.

This upset Ellis so much so that he began unplugging bounce houses from their generators… with children still inside. One bounce house deflated on a 5-year old girl who was stuck inside. Many other children were also trapped within deflating bounce houses.

After this tantrum, Ellis disappeared for a time. The OSHA inspector was looking for him, obviously. He re-appeared later, in a new shirt, new hat, new mask, an obvious attempt to disguise himself. Once he was spotted, Park Rangers and Sheriff officers pulled Ellis aside to make a positive ID on him, so they could provide that information to the inspector.

It was at that point that Ellis disappeared again, leaving the children he had hired in charge of the rock wall. Once this was discovered, the rock wall was also shut down by Kris McCandless.

Text message from Facebook

None of the attendants overseeing the event at that point was over the age of 16 years old. In fact, none of the attendants, 10, 12, 13, and 16 years old, were ever paid for the event. Ellis asked them to volunteer so he could “keep costs down for the Country Faire” and that they would be treated to a party at a later date.

Remember, Ellis had been paid $5,600 upfront already.

As yet, no party has been scheduled, and Ellis is no longer responding to anyone.

Facebook posting

Because Ellis and his partner were nowhere to be found, the kids running the “Sac Bounce” equipment were provided food and water by the organizers. Ultimately, Country Faire organizers ended up manning the bounce houses and rock wall to be assured that no one was going to be hurt.

Organizers were told that inspectors would be filing two complaints against Sac Bounce, one for the bungee attraction, which had a customer strapped in when the inspector red-flagged the attraction, and one for willfully renting and using the (zip-line) equipment despite knowing that it was not permitted by the State of California.

(The inspector made it clear that the other amusement ride operators, with the teacup ride and the bucking bull and one other, were golden. They were fully permitted and their rides were fully compliant. He also made it clear that he and his department had no jurisdiction over the bounce-houses. )

The Cal-Osha inspector was sure to inform organizers that the reports would be prepared within two weeks, and we should be able to request them at that time.

Speaking of reports, it should also be noted here that Ellis is the person responsible for the Pumpkin Patch and Christmas Tree lot on Rio Linda Boulevard last year.

Due to NUMEROUS code violations, his request for a permit this year has been flatly denied by Sacramento County.

Ellis Christmas Tree lot on Rio Linda Boulevard, February 2021

In denying his application, many violations that have taken place over the past year were noted, including:

  • Condition 6 and Condition 11 of the previous Temporary Use Permit, which address on-sight lighting and building permits, respectively, have been violated.
  • There is currently an open Code Enforcement Case and Building Permits and Inspection Case for the subject property.
    • Junk, garbage, and rubbish being stored on the property.
    • Not adhering to use standard(s) for minor repair and maintenance of vehicles for personal use.
    • Not adhering to use standard(s) for parking/storage of commercial vehicles.
    • Illegal occupancy of a travel trailer / recreational vehicle.
    • Occupied accessory structure.
    • Prohibited storage of cargo containers.
    • No building, structure, vehicle, sign, or area shall be used, erected, altered, moved, enlarged, or stored in any zoning district except as specifically allowed in the underlying zoning district…

“Use of a property in a manner that constitutes a violation of County Codes is considered a
public nuisance and therefore detrimental to the public health, safety, or general welfare.
As such, the proposed use is not consistent with County Zoning Code requirements for
Temporary Uses and therefore the Zoning Administrator cannot approve the request.”

The full denial is attached below.

Parents of the children involved, Kris McCandless, and others have been unable to contact Ellis since Saturday afternoon.

John Toddhttps://www.riolindamessenger.com
Born and raised in Rio Linda, graduate of Rio Linda High School, and resident for most of the last 50 years. Committee Chair for the Rio Linda Elverta Visions Committee, announcer for the Rio Linda Little League Parade, Keeper of the Archway Lights, and outspoken advocate for the community.
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