When Barry M. Hollis stepped into a car on the Crazy Mouse roller coaster with two young children, police allege, he told them his name was “Michael Nofear” and offered them a purple teddy bear. The children turned down the stranger’s offer.
Then, as the little car reached its highest point at Martin’s Fantasy Island amusement park on Grand Island, something horrible happened, according to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. Hollis allegedly pushed his hand up the skirt of an 8-year-old girl sitting next to him and repeatedly molested her.
Hollis, 36, of Walnut Street in Niagara Falls, is charged with felony sexual abuse and misdemeanor endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a felony hearing today before Town Justice Mark J. Frentzel in Grand Island Town Court. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in the June 22 incident.
Sheriff’s detectives are trying to determine if Hollis was involved in any other similar incidents – either at Fantasy Island or elsewhere.
Police describe the incident as a parent’s nightmare. And they lament that it happened at Fantasy Island, a family-friendly park where many Western New York residents since 1961 have enjoyed their first roller coaster rides.
“It’s a very unfortunate and disturbing incident,” Undersheriff Mark Wipperman said. “We know a lot of families take young children to that park, and our hearts go out to the victim and her family.”
Detectives, so far, have not found evidence of any other children victimized at Fantasy Island on the day Hollis allegedly abused the girl, Wipperman said.
“Fortunately, it looks like an isolated incident,” the undersheriff said.
Park officials feel terrible about the incident and are taking steps to try to prevent it from happening again, Len Synor, Fantasy Island’s marketing and public relations director, told The Buffalo News.
“We’ve stepped up awareness among our employees. We’ve been telling them to watch out for unusual situations,” Synor said. “But we’ve never had an incident like this at Fantasy Island in at least 21 years, and we didn’t expect something like this ever to happen here.”
Did park employees make a horrible mistake by allowing two children to get into a roller coaster car with an adult stranger?
Wipperman declined to comment.
Unless a ride operator asks every rider to show identification, it is difficult to know whether people who stand in line together and get onto a ride are related to each other, Synor said.
He said Hollis, on June 22, exhibited no behavior before the incident that would lead a park employee to think he was planning something nefarious.
None of the park’s policies or procedures has been changed as a result of the alleged molestation, Synor said.
“We do some very thorough training at the start of the season,” Synor said. “After this, we are asking employees to watch closely for any out-of-the-ordinary behavior, anything odd.”
The fact the alleged molestation took place at the top of a roller coaster hill on one of the park’s bigger rides made it harder for the Crazy Mouse operator to stop it, Synor said.
According to police, the victim’s parents did not accompany their daughter and her friend on the Crazy Mouse ride. The victim’s father was waiting for her to get off the ride at about 4 p.m., and she quickly told her father what had happened.
The girl’s father told park officials about it, and park security personnel immediately contacted the Sheriff’s Office, Synor said.
While not blaming the girl’s parents, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard urged parents to be alert and stay close to their children when they visit amusement parks or other public places.
“Please be aware of the area you are visiting, and always make sure to keep your children in sight, know where they are going and arrange that they are not left alone,” Howard said in a statement last week. “Reinforcing the old rule of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ with your children, and teaching them to shout for help and call 911 if they are threatened by a stranger, can help prevent these incidents.”
Hollis left the park after the alleged incident.
Police said Detectives Daniel Brinkerhoff and Emily Nelson Gerkin tracked him down with information obtained from witnesses.
Little information has been released so far about Hollis, who was remanded to the Erie County Holding Center after his arrest. Hollis has no record of sex-related crimes, and he is not listed on any sex-offender registry, according to Scott Zylka, Howard’s executive assistant.
Fantasy Island officials have cooperated in the ongoing probe, Zylka said.
Police said they do not know if Hollis has a job, or if he has worked in the past. He is represented by defense attorney Mary Beth DePasquale, a former Erie County assistant district attorney. She could not be reached to comment Monday.
Anyone with information about Hollis or what happened at Fantasy Island is asked to call Greater Buffalo Crime Stoppers at 867-6161 or to send a confidential email by going on www.erie.gov/sheriff and clicking the “Confidential Email” link near the bottom of the page.
A police officer familiar with the case said he found it especially chilling that the suspect used “Michael Nofear” as his alias and offered a teddy bear to children.
“It’s scary. How do you know something like this is going to happen?” the officer said. “It’s not like these guys wear big flashing signs saying, ‘I’m a child molester.’ ”