An injured 56-year-old Chandler city worker who will be missing at least eight weeks of work has a message to those thinking about riding the mechanical bull at the annual Ostrich Festival: "Be careful and ride at your own risk."
Dan Lermas, a retired gas and streets division worker from Mesa, who now works for Chandler's streets division, fractured his pelvis when he was thrown from the mechanical bull after riding it for two seconds at the Ostrich Festival on March 12.
Lermas was taken to Gilbert Mercy Medical Center and later St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where he had surgery to place a titanium plate in his pelvis.
Lermas was placed on disability from the city and is in a wheelchair recovering from the short-lived wild ride.
He said he was not required to sign a release to ride the bull, disclaiming any responsibility on the part of the ride's owner, Universal Fairs of Tennessee, which provides rides for the Ostrich Festival.
"It felt like a roaring lion going through my backbone," Lermas said of his injury. "Don't ride the bull if you don't plan on being hurt. It's a risky thing, especially when the operator takes his eyes off the joystick and just lets it go. I gave him my $5 to ride it, and I was thrown off before I knew it."
Lermas said at least two other people were hurt riding the bull at the Ostrich Festival held at Tumbleweed Park, but Chandler spokesperson Jane Poston said the city was unaware of any other incidents.
Poston said it would be up to the Chamber of Commerce, sponsor of the festival, whether to continue featuring the mechanical bull at the event.
However, Karen Hall, vice president of programs and events for the chamber, would not say whether it will keep the bull at future festivals, and referred all inquiries to Universal Fairs.
Mark Lovell, owner of Universal Fairs, said that he was not aware of the incident until contacted by the Tribune on Monday.
Lovell also said he plans to bring the mechanical bull back to next year's Ostrich Festival.
"People get injured all the time doing different things," Lovell said. "Mechanical bulls are everywhere."
The incident involving Lermas is not the first time someone has been seriously injured at the event.
On March 14, 2009, stunt motorcyclist Bryant McLaughlin and city worker Hermelinda Llamas collided as she drove a John Deere Gator, a golf-cart-sized vehicle, into his path in a restricted area at Tumbleweed Park. The Gator ran over McLaughlin as he was practicing stunts.
McLaughlin, then 39, was seriously injured and put in a medically induced coma after the accident. He filed a civil lawsuit against the city, alleging negligence, seeking $8 million in damages.
City officials would not comment on the incident because of the pending litigation. The civil lawsuit against the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and Universal Fairs involving McLaughlin is scheduled to go to trial in Maricopa County Superior Court in November, according to court records.
McLaughlin, a landscaper and construction worker, is continuing to recover from his injuries, according to his attorney, William Walker.
"He can't make a living the way he used to," Walker said Tuesday. "He's still injured. He's got a permanent brain injury, and there's a lot of things he still can't do on his own. He still has a lot of problems."
A woman also was injured after hitting her head on a metal fence railing while riding an ostrich in the ostrich races the same year.
Lermas said he is exploring his avenues in case he has to find another job, but doesn't plan to sue the Chamber of Commerce at this time as he got on the bull voluntarily.
He also plans to tell chamber officials they should discontinue the ride so no one else gets hurt.