The coroner will hold an inquest into the death after WorkSafe dropped a criminal charge against the ride operator, Wittingslow Amusements, also known as Wittingslow Carnivals, in February.
“While Eugene was tall enough, the evidence is clear that the friend he was riding with was not 130 centimetres and …. they shouldn’t have been, it appears, in a car together,” Ms Ellyard said.
“[She] has described them pushing into each other … before Eugene slipped out.
“He could’ve been on the ride without an adult, but she shouldn’t have been.”
The directions hearing heard that Eugene’s parents both worked at the carnival, his mother in the ticket box and as a ride operator and his father as a ride operator.
On April 17, 2017, the final day of the event, Eugene’s family was present and while his parents worked he was playing and being supervised by older children.
The carnival was due to close at 5pm and rides were being packed up. Eugene, the youngest of six siblings, was told to play at a park with his 15-year-old cousin.
But at 5.10pm, he joined the final ride and was seated next to the six-year-old girl.
“He had ridden the ride many times before, but never without someone larger,” Ms Ellyard said.
The ride was meant to run for up to 3½ minutes and at its top speed, with “considerable force”, for about 30 to 40 seconds.
Ms Ellyard said that during the ride witnesses reported seeing Eugene lose his grip, strike his head and slip out from under the lap safety bar before being thrown to the ground.
“It was a terribly distressing scene. His father heard the noise and ran to the scene to try and help,” she said.
“[Eugene] was airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital with critical head injuries. He died four days later.
“There is some evidence to suggest that on other occasions on this day and on other days children under the height limit were prepared to ride without an adult. Eugene’s parents have said in their statements that they themselves wouldn’t have permitted him to ride without an older child or an adult.”
Ms Ellyard said the coroner’s investigators had found the Cha Cha ride involved had been built in 1961 and owned by Wittingslow since 1998.
In November 2018, seven months after Eugene’s death, WorkSafe laid a criminal charge against Wittingslow, alleging it had failed to prevent riders from being exposed to safety risks.
That charge was withdrawn in February.
While safety improvements were later made and the ride returned to operation, an engineer had certified the Cha Cha before the boy’s death and a safety inspection the day after did not identify any concerns, Ms Ellyard said.
The inquest is expected to examine the nature and extent of training provided to staff and the suitability of young children to board carnival rides.
It is also expected to hear evidence from an independent expert on whether the ride would be approved in its current form if it were to be built today.
“There is some evidence … that the restrictions about height and who could ride with who weren’t always followed or that there were differences in how they were interpreted by ride operators. This is one of the matters to be explored in inquest,” Ms Ellyard said.
Catch all the day’s headlines
At the end of each day, we’ll send you the most important breaking news headlines, evening entertainment ideas and a long read to enjoy. Sign up here.
Erin covers crime for The Age. Most recently she was a police reporter at the Geelong Advertiser.