Man without legs dies from fall on Darien Lake's Ride of Steel roller coaster

Posted Friday, July 8, 2011 11:04 PM | Contributed by Mike Gallagher

Friday night, Sgt. James Hackemer got on the biggest roller coaster in western New York, Ride of Steel at Darien Lake, and during the ride, fell off to his death. The Iraq War veteran lost his legs in the war. A witness says the man came out of the ride in the first turn.

Read more and see video from WIVB/Buffalo.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 8:58 AM

I think it's pretty clear that pointing the finger at Intamin this time is just plain wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.


The people you should be looking to blame are the park operators. This is pretty clearly a negligent homicide situation, although I don't know if anything of the sort will come of it.


I'm no Intamin apologist. I am in fact a massive B&M fanboy. But this time, they're not to blame.

Last edited by Vincent Greene, Saturday, July 9, 2011 9:01 AM
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Saturday, July 9, 2011 9:49 AM

LostKause said:
...Just because I can't sleep...


CoasterDemon said:

...Between the Intamin accidents and cables, seems a little scary...

Adding this accident to all of the others, I am starting to feel a little more afraid of Intamin coasters too.

It seems like each year we find hear about something that has gone terribly wrong with an Intamin coasters (and the drop tower incident too). I can't get them out of my mind sometimes.

What? The lap bar is fine, and perfectly safe. The only reason it "failed" to do its job in this case is apparently the rider having no legs, and as Dave explained, it could not possibly hold him in.

The lap did not really fail to do its job. The rider should not have even been on the ride to begin with. Now, if you show me an ejection where the rider was "properly" restrained and then fell out, I might be more apt to agree. As it stand right now, I do believe that most every single instance of ejection from an Intamin ride has been the result of the restraint not being used properly by the rider (and the ops not correcting that), or the rider being unfit to ride according to safety regulations.


Original BlueStreak64

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:02 AM

First and foremost, my sincerest condolences to the man's family.

I hate to say this, but I am wondering how much of this stems from our "politically correct" world. I have to think that a 18 year old kid is going to have trouble telling someone that they can't ride, out of fear of discrimination, or possible loss of job. Saying this, I am wondering for those that have worked in the amusement parks as ride ops, what is the corporate culture regarding disabled people? Are you supposed to treat them like everyone else?

Again, I mean no disrespect to anyone, but political correctness is a hot topic to some people.


Fever I really enjoy the Simpsons. It's just a shame that I am starting to LOOK like Homer.
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Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:10 AM
mlnem4s's avatar

First, I have to say how deeply sad I am for this man, his friends and his family. Going to the amusement park is suppose to be a fun and carefree experience. Sadly, it is an incident like this that remind us all that at their core rides are pieces of machinery and safety rules and requirements do need to be followed.

It is important for everyone to know too how this affects ride operators. I personally went through an ordeal 20 years ago with a disabled guest who "appeared" to only have a sprained ankle but unknown to my crew she had a neurological disorder that prevented her from feeling her lower legs. Upon return to the station, there were a series of issues with this guest disembarking that ultimately lead to a collision between two coaster trains. All of us that day were absolutely devastated; we felt like we somehow failed, we felt extremely bad for the injuries that occured, and frankly we were in shock from witnessing and experiencing everything that happened. These are things I would never wish upon on park operations team to have to go through and it is why training and guest awareness to ride requirements is so very important.

Viewing the photos of Sgt. Hackemer, it appears from his war injuries he should not have been permitted to ride. It appears that his right leg was lost just above the knee and it is hard to tell what, if any, part of his left leg was saved. Across the board for a ride like Ride of Steel (size, speed, dynamics and restraint design) a guest is required to have two functioning legs, 3 functioning extremities, appropriate center of gravity, seated postural control, etc. In the days going forward I am sure we will learn what exactly transpired that allowed Sgt. Hackemer to get on this ride when he didn't meet the requirements.

In defense of the ride operators, we shouldn't be too quick to judge. We don't know if the crew members working that day were regulars fully trained/experienced or if someone new was working the ride that day and maybe wasn't fully aware of the ride requirements for disabled guests. We don't know if it was clearly evident Sgt. Hackemer had a disability, many prosthetics today appear so natural you would never know a person had a disability. We don't know what, if any, pressure was placed on the ride operators to let this guest ride (I will say that one of the biggest problems for park operations employees is a ride operator, on a platform, telling a guest they do not meet the ride requirements and other guests creating a mob mentality to try and force the ride operator into letting a guest ride.) We don't know if there was an entrance host that day checking for these issues; crews on the platform trying to perform their duties quickly and efficiently with multiple ride vehicles in operation have to make snap judgements on guest issues. There are so many variables that could be apart of the situation.

Lastly, while this guest may not have meet the ride requirements for Ride of Steel, there is still the lingering issue of this seat/restraint design by Intamin. As Jeff pointed out, the design of the seat and restraint has changed many times and TTDragster seems to finally be the design that is the safest. Wouldn't it behove Intamin to work with these parks that have earlier train designs to replace them and put this ejection issue completely to rest once and for all?

Last edited by mlnem4s, Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:12 AM
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Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:25 AM
Tekwardo's avatar

Travis, the SFNE guy wasn't mentally disabled, he had MD if I recall correctly (it was definitely a physical and not mental condition).

I can think of 4 deaths and one major injuryin the last decade or so on Intamin rides that all stem from people being ejected from the ride. The two superflume deaths, and the three hyper coaster incidents. On the three hyper coaster incidents, all three seem to have been operator error in some form. IIRC the first guy that was ejected on this ride (who survived) was grossly overweight and the lap bar wasn't secured. And the lap bar wasn't secured on the SFNE guy either.

As for the Lassiter girl, that seems more like the fault of the park for not maintaining the ride. I personally tend not to ride that generation of freefall (I was supposed to be at SFKK that day but ended up in the hospital on the way to Kings Island thanks to kidney stones) but I do on occasion ride them.

I'm not totally taking up for Intamin here, but the majority of the incidents seem to be rider or operator error first. I'd like to think that after their modifications these rides are safe for normal riders with all limbs who aren't morbidly obese. I've ridden RoS at SFA with the current terrible restraints. You can't come flying out of them. Unless you're missing your legs.

Oh, and Jeff, there's actually V6 of the restraints. Bizarro now has the El Toro restraints.

Last edited by Tekwardo, Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:29 AM

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 12:15 PM
mlnem4s's avatar

Here is a bit more information on his war injuries:

"The wounded veteran was missing all of his left leg and most of his right one, as well as part of a hip, and had been living at his parents' home in Gowanda following years of rehabilitation." - Ben Dobbin, Associated Press.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 12:24 PM
Jeff's avatar

RideMan said:
This means that sitting in the front seat of a car, there is a shorter distance from the front of the seat to the floor than there is in the back seat of the car.

Ah, that was the change I wasn't aware of. I never put that together (and frankly wouldn't remember, having been to Darien Lake only twice, and in 1999 at that). My perception about the seats not being as deep would certainly lend itself to that arrangement. I really believe that the Dragster version of the seats is really excellent, and I was disappointed to find it not used on any of the US coasters after that (that I can think of).

Agreed that as much as we like to poke at Intamin for its safety record (and boats that sink), this one seems entirely like human error in the moment.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 12:42 PM

The first time I rode the Darien Lake coaster in '99 I rode in both the front seat and in the back seat, and I rode just a week or two after the first incident. In the front seat I couldn't see how it could have happened, but in the back seat it felt like just a slight push at just the right moment and were it not for the seat belt I would have been out on the last hill. That is a truly unnerving feeling, and it prompted me to look for differences.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


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Saturday, July 9, 2011 1:13 PM

RatherGoodBear said:
Have we gone too far in not wanting to hurt someone's feelings that we can't say to anyone "no, you can't do that?"


Actually its been like that for awhile now. For example my 22 year old daughter just last week had lost her job in West Virginia because "..your work wasn't up to par !!". However..TWO WEEKS ago she was given a review by her employer and not only did she receive a GOOD review but had gotten a raise too.

Of course she asked her boss why the "good" review and raise IF her work was unsatisfactory to begin with. Her bosses' response "..well honey I just had to lie..I just didn't want to hurt your feelings since you are such a nice person".

With attitudes like that, well it wouldn't surprise at all if this sort of thing spills into theme parks meaning that those who should NOT ride will be allowed to ride anyway all over the fear of hurting ones feelings and/or getting sued if the ride op would dare to say "..sorry but you can't ride !!".

Last edited by Chriscub, Saturday, July 9, 2011 1:17 PM

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 1:30 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

Chriscub said:
Of course she asked her boss why the "good" review and raise IF her work was unsatisfactory to begin with. Her bosses' response "..well honey I just had to lie..I just didn't want to hurt your feelings since you are such a nice person".

That's not a symptom of the system, that's a boss who has no business being handling authority. What's scary is the sheer number of people who fall into that category.

He should've told the truth. "Well, I had to lie. I have no balls and shouldn't have been given this position."

mlnem4s said:
Here is a bit more information on his war injuries:

"The wounded veteran was missing all of his left leg and most of his right one, as well as part of a hip, and had been living at his parents' home in Gowanda following years of rehabilitation." - Ben Dobbin, Associated Press.

Yikes. Trying to picture this in my head and figure out how anyone thought the lap bar would secure this guy.


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Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:01 PM
rollergator's avatar

As I mentioned in the forum thread, prosthetics have come a LONG way in the past couple decades or so...it is entirely within reason to believe that the ride op *might* not have known.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:23 PM
DaveStroem's avatar

Darien Lake just put out the word that they are looking for witnesses on facebook.

Guests who were at Darien Lake and are witness to the July 8 incident on Ride of Steel are encouraged to contact the park to provide information or seek assistance by calling 585-599-5120 or emailing support@godarienlake.com.


Before you can be older and wiser you first have to be young and stupid.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:25 PM

I have to agree with rollergrater on this one
if he came into station in wheelchair with pants on and prosthetic's
Could the ride op tell he had no legs.Person's in wheelchairs can
ride this ride.

I think this will make parks question all person's renting wheelchairs
from now on and obtaining clearance from park nurse/paramedic's

I am remembering the story of the guy who had his false limb fly off on a coaster.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:46 PM

Lord Gonchar said:


Chriscub said:
Of course she asked her boss why the "good" review and raise IF her work was unsatisfactory to begin with. Her bosses' response "..well honey I just had to lie..I just didn't want to hurt your feelings since you are such a nice person".

That's not a symptom of the system, that's a boss who has no business being handling authority. What's scary is the sheer number of people who fall into that category.

He should've told the truth. "Well, I had to lie. I have no balls and shouldn't have been given this position."


Oh I totally agree with you..not too mention what is even MORE scary is the number of people who actually agree with her boss !! UGH !! I must had heard that line "..well today YOU gotta play safe" from so many. I guess I can see their point though I don't agree. Just this morning I was watching The Family Guy on one of the local channels that I had TVIO'ed last night and twice during the show the local station was airing that new ad for Free Credit Report dot com showing a group of guys singing. about a man who had a successful business..then...

"...Until one day he was sued..but what can ya say,,even though he has a college degree..he can only make 3 bucks a day ( the ad showed him mowing lawns )...today you need to have a good credit score...otherwise you can't mind the store !!"

Between ads like THAT and that recent USA Today article about employers who are checking credit reports, kinda makes me wonder if some of these ride ops will look the other way when it comes to who can/can NOT ride for the fear of getting sued-losing their job and won't be able to find another one.

Last edited by Chriscub, Saturday, July 9, 2011 2:48 PM

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 3:08 PM

This is very sad.

I'm not familiar with Darien Lakes policies but when I worked on coasters the basic guideline is that a rider must have at least 3 appendages to ride. It wasn't a judgement call for the operator but a firm policy like a height requirement. My understanding was that rider requirements like height minimums were established or at least suggested by the ride manufacturer. So I suspet this would carry probably over to appendage requirements?

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 3:40 PM

rollergator said:
As I mentioned in the forum thread, prosthetics have come a LONG way in the past couple decades or so...it is entirely within reason to believe that the ride op *might* not have known.

It doesn't sound like he was wearing prosthetics, just shorts/pants. Unless the legs were stuffed to the edge of the chair, it should have been pretty obvious. But yes, in the chance he was wearing a prosthetic, there is the chance that was missed. But then I would think there would also have been mention of a flying/missing prosthetic.


Original BlueStreak64

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 4:11 PM
Rihard's avatar

This is such a sad story on so many accounts. My thoughts go out to the family and friends of Sgt. James Hackemer. What saddens me the most (and angers a bit) about this is that the restraints are well know to fail if not used properly by the rider and/or corrected by the operator. This tragedy could have been prevented if Intamin and the parks would work together and spend the money correct the trains (Dragster). If parks don't want to do that, then each employee working at one of those rides needs to know the dangers associated with improper deployment of the lap bar. Unless it comes out that prosthetic devices were being worn, it seems this failure falls on the ride crews oversight and/or lack of training.


- R.A

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 4:54 PM
CoasterDemon's avatar

My issue with Intamin is the absurdity of some of the designs. El Toro was an 'meh' ride in my book simply because I didn't find it exciting or comfortable to be held upward into an already tight lap bar with a vertical upwards force of whatever it was. I'd rather have a hint of airtime or even a slight ejector air time, with a little space to breath. The transitions on their rides are down right obnoxious; I-305 is a hunk of junk and Maverick hurt like hell. And then of course, launching to extreme speeds with cables. It's not a matter of if an accident happens, it's a matter of when.

With all my complaining, I understand people still love these rides. And on top of that, the rate of injuries is thousands of times lower on Intamin rides than say, riding a bus or car.

edit - does anyone know if Intamin offers a special 'vest' or other device that can be outfitted to a seat to accommodate someone with no legs? Like the ones on Griffon...

Last edited by CoasterDemon, Saturday, July 9, 2011 5:01 PM
Billy
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Saturday, July 9, 2011 6:08 PM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar

mlnem4s said:
As Jeff pointed out, the design of the seat and restraint has changed many times and TTDragster seems to finally be the design that is the safest. Wouldn't it behove Intamin to work with these parks that have earlier train designs to replace them and put this ejection issue completely to rest once and for all?

I would agree, except that Intamin put OSTRs on Kingda Ka. I wonder if their suggestion for refit would be OSTRs?

"Hi, I'm Matthew Ouimet and my first order of business is to make Dragster and Millennium Force safer with OSTRs!"

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 10:08 PM
mlnem4s's avatar

@Pagoda....While I have no proof or knowledge, I would think the OTSR on Kingda Ka has as much to do with the type of ride operators and guests SFGAdv attracts versus Cedar Point and Six Flags simply wanted to avoid any and all issues related to restraint issues and/or rider ejection. I don't mean to sound snobbish or classist, but let's be honest and admit that the quality of ride operators at Cedar Point and the park guests tend to be much more "professional/civilized" than what you typically find at Great Adventure.

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