Just one year ago, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus were performing in Rhode Island when eight acrobats suspended by their hair plummeted to the ground before a crowd of thousands of people. A single metal clip that held them 20 feet aloft snapped, sending the acrobats to the ground below. The women were badly injured, some with spinal injuries so severe they can no longer walk.
This week, the circus returns, as Ringling Bros. begins a four-day run Thursday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, where the accident took place May 4, 2014. The circus has made some safety changes since then, and officials are preparing themselves in case something goes awry this time around.
“There’s always been death-defying acts. It’s part of the show,” said Lawrence Lepore, general manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center told ABC News. “I guess all of a sudden you realize that yeah, someone can die doing this.”
One year later, the conditions of most the women are unclear. Widny Neves, said she is better but still has a long road to recovery after suffering both back and neck fractures and a broken arm. Lawyers representing the other acrobats did not return numerous requests for comments.
Andrey Medeiros, who conceived and developed the act for the circus with his wife, Viktoriya, told The Providence Journal that two of the women involved in the accident are still unable to walk.
Just one, Samantha Pitard, has returned to the circus as a performer, said Stephen Payne, a spokesperson for the circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment Inc. He said she is working on a different circus unit and training to join another aerial performance. She will not perform in Providence on May 4 however, Payne said.
The other women are no longer employed by the company but are covered by its insurance, he added. Court documents show that seven have filed workers’ compensation claims. They have also filed papers in state court requesting documents related to the accident and asking to interview several officials at Feld, based in Vienna, Virginia. Court papers describe this a as prelude to a lawsuit.