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 10:11 PM
Jeff's avatar

Rihard said:
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).

Hold on a second... The restraint did not apparently fail. It can't do something it wasn't designed to do. It does not seem appropriate at this point to blame Intamin.


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

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 10:12 PM

Still a lot of speculation, wihout knowing if the man had pants on and a full prosthetic leg on his right leg. This would have given the appearance that he had three appendages, but as I said, speculation.

I can't remember exactly what Millenium's water dummies look like, but I can remember them being stored under the station at one point. My gut is telling me they have legs to the knee. If not, how else would they stay in the train during testing?


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 10:26 PM
LostKause's avatar

I read on the comments section of one of the news websites covering this story that someone questioned that if the man had no legs, he couldn't have been tall enough for the height requirement. While at first, this sounds kind of like a joke, it would make for a good reason to not allow him onto the ride in the first place.


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Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:15 PM
Vater's avatar

A better reason would be that he didn't have legs.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011 11:43 PM

What is very sad about this situation is I could potentially see how this could happen. For example, he asks his doctor if it is OK to ride a rollercoaster. Doctor, thinking first of heart issues, etc. and possibly thinking of a more enclosed coaster (like a PTC) says yes, no problems, if the park allows it.

At the park, he maybe starts out with the smaller coasters (i.e. Predator (PTC), Viper (Arrow), Mind Eraser (Vekoma), etc. Each of these has a different reason, essentially, why he would end up beign restrained on the ride. Since Superman was next in the row, he went on that ride, where unfortunately, a tragic accident occurred.

From a parks standpoint, it may be somewhat impossible to tell if everyone is medically fit for a given ride. Would a double amputee, for example, be in any different shape than some of the other diseases which cause paraplegia? Or maybe a quadriplegic? Or, in this case, would a prosthesis covered by a pair of pants be noticeable? (In this case, it seems like it should have been noticed, as the articles seem to indicate he did not have a prosthesis, but that has not been definitely confirmed.) I seem to recall a sign at Indiana Beach warning those who have had a broken collar bone not to ride on of the coasters. But would a ride op be able to tell that?

But then again, is there maybe fault for Intamin. It's been noted that their rides have somewhat higher forces than others. (It's been a while since I've been on an Intamin, though I have ridden this very ride, so I'm not sure my memory is correct.) Is that a problem or a flaw in the ride, or just a desired design specification? Maybe, maybe not. Would a different car design have prevented this accident (i.e. maybe one with a more substantial seat area, like a PTC or NAD)? Maybe, maybe not. Would slightly less force have helped on the turn, or maybe slightly less speed on the hill? Maybe, maybe not.

What this really boils down to is a tragic accident brought on by many compounding factors. I feel sorry for the family, but also for anyone else who was on that ride that day. Their view of a roller coaster will be forever changed.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 12:30 AM
Fun's avatar

These "maybe, maybe not" situations are going to lead to knee jerk changes that will protect more riders like this man, but in the end, will likely diminish the experience for everyone else.

Consider this for a moment: What changes will insurance underwriters require of parks now that this accident has occurred?

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 1:47 AM
Jeff's avatar

Many compounding factors? Unless there's something glaringly omitted from the reporting, it would seem to me there was only one: They let a guy with no legs ride something that restrains by the legs. That hardly strikes me as complicated.


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

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 1:47 AM

More than likely the underwriters will require a review of operational procedures and will require that the operator spell out in the ride procedure manual (ASTM F770-06:4.1*) and instructions to operators (ASTM F770-06:4.2.1) that patrons who cannot be safely restrained by the ride shall not be permitted to ride.

Now that I look at it, I see that ASTM F770-06:4.2 clearly states:

The owner/operator of an amusement ride or device may deny entry to the ride or device to any person, if in the opinion of the owner/operator the entry may cause above normal exposure to risk of discomfort or injury to the person who desires to enter, or if in the opinion of the owner/operator the entry may jeopardize the safety of other patrons or employees.

What that tells me is that if the State of New York has declared compliance with ASTM F770-06, then that statement has the force of law, and should provide some protection against any ADA complaint that might result from denying entrance to a passenger such as Sgt. Hackemer.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

* ASTM F770-06 is no longer the current version; F770-11 was issued last week, but while I have downloaded it, it's in my other computer and I don't have access to its text right now...ASTM 770-06 is the "Standard Practice for Ownership and Operation of Amusement Rides and Devices." F770-11 has a new title, "Standard Practice for Ownership, Operation, Maintenance, and Inspection of Amusement Rides and Devices."

--DCAjr


    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____
/XXXXX\ /XXX\ /XXXX\_ /X\ /XXXXX\ /X\ /X\ /XXXXX
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 1:49 AM

At this point in our stupid, litigious American history every single park should install signs ala the Wisconsin Dells that say "Ride At Your Own Risk." This would preclude all parks from stupid lawsuits such as the one that will surely result from this incident. A man with no legs tried riding a coaster that uses t-bars (read: thigh bars). These bars, by any level of common sense, require that a rider have legs in place. This is more a situation of whether this man should be awarded a Darwin award for 2011 rather than a situation that insurance companies will take to heart, but I know that in the good ole' US of A lawyers will have an absolute field day with this.

At what point are we as a country going to stand up and say, "Idiots will be idiots, stop the lawsuits" ? I'm sorry to be so callous to an Iraq war vet but can't everyone else agree that if you were lacking two legs that you wouldn't hop on a ride that employs LEG bars to hold you in through a course that includes very high negative g-forces (a fact that is very apparent from the ground)? Seriously... self responsibility. The poor ride-op probably didn't even know that the guy was lacking legs. This is on the same level as someone that falls backwards while sitting on a queue railing, hits their head, and then blames the park for it. We are all going to feel the repercussions of this guy's dumb decision for years to come and I'm probably going to be called a **** for stating that obvious point.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 3:49 AM
obxKevin's avatar

The ride ops helped the guy onto the ride sans legs. They KNEW he was a double amputee.

And are you suggesting that every rider understand how the restraint is designed to work? How does not knowing that the lap bar requires the use of a person's legs make that person an idiot?


The poster formerly known as 'Zcorpius.' Joined 2004
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 4:21 AM

LostKause said:
I read on the comments section of one of the news websites covering this story that someone questioned that if the man had no legs, he couldn't have been tall enough for the height requirement. While at first, this sounds kind of like a joke, it would make for a good reason to not allow him onto the ride in the first place.

Exactly. There's NO WAY this man's body was at least 54 inches tall.

What puzzles me about this incident is that surely there was at least one experienced ride operator on the ride platform. And having been a ride operator, I know that loading a disabled guest is usually a slow process. An operator will be assigned to assist the guest to the loading platform. The guest will take extra time loading. Trains will stack. All eyes will be on the disabled guest, making sure they are getting into the train safely. The wheelchair will be pushed out of the way. During this process, where was the lead operator, and what were they thinking? No red flags going off inside their head that a man with no legs who does not meet the height requirement is boarding their ride?

Such a major oversight would lead me to believe that this incident comes down to an operator training issue.

As a more general comment, I can't think of any major roller coaster that allows someone to ride with no legs (no matter the restraint style), simply because the person would not meet the minimum height requirement.

Last edited by Scottt, Sunday, July 10, 2011 4:24 AM
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 9:33 AM

This new news story is quite interesting...

If what is explained in this article is true, it appears that the park now has all of the blame in this case. While we don't know why he didn't try a test seat or ask ride operators on the platform if he could ride, the park staff still allowed him to ride and shouldn't have. Again, if the witness accounts are true.

According to various articles, he didn't have any prosthesis on - making this a total fail on the park and its staff. Sad.


"It's a new dawn...a new day...and I'm feelin' good."

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:16 AM

I can't tell you how angry this makes me. I'm ticked off at everyone. There is NO WAY this guy should have been allowed on the ride. And, you can't blame the man or his family. THEY should not be the one's to determine what rides are safe and what rides are not. They have no experience to make that judgment.

You can't say this was a "struck by lightning" coincidence. Under normal circumstances you are more likely to be struck by lightning than killed on a coaster but these circumstances aren't normal. There is a very good chance you could be hurt, on at least this style of ride, if you have lower body disabilities.

Ride manufacturers, park operators and IAAPA need to come together to address this situation as an industry. We cannot be relying on the judgment of an overworked 18 year old ride operator on whether or not a person with a disability should be permitted to ride...anything.

I suggest every park should require guests with physical disabilities to visit their nursing/first aid stations upon arrival at the park and be subject to the judgment of a professional person (who has experience with physical mobility issues and some significant training about the restraint devices on the park rides) before being given approval to ride certain attractions. And, let's think it through. Even if the guy would have survived the ride, what would have happened if he had to be evacuated from the top of the lift? At that point others could be in danger as well.

In my opinion this needs a wholistic, industry wide approach. Nobody else should die or be injured in this manner.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:21 AM

I agree with your sentiments RollrCostrCrazy, as well as Wahoo's. This guy shouldn't have asked to ride, and the park shouldn't have let him. Double fail.


Fever I really enjoy the Simpsons. It's just a shame that I am starting to LOOK like Homer.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:32 AM
Jeff's avatar

RollrCoastrCrazy said:
At this point in our stupid, litigious American history every single park should install signs ala the Wisconsin Dells that say "Ride At Your Own Risk." This would preclude all parks from stupid lawsuits such as the one that will surely result from this incident.

Nonsense. It wouldn't preclude anything. The burden of understanding how to use equipment properly will not rest with the guest, ever.


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

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:46 AM

For those who mentioned Millennium Force's water dummies. Below is a picture of them in the seats.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/statically_indeterminate/5922307596/in/photostream

The lap bars do not secure the dummies in like they do people. In the picture, that's as far down as the lap bars will go on the dummies. They are primarily secured by the seatbelt. Then they also are tied around the neck to the seat.

Last edited by RideOn, Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:54 AM
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:03 AM
LostKause's avatar

This incident still has me very upset. It should not have happened.

The article that Guide_Wheel linked to (From The New York Times) gives a little more information.

For those of you who missed it... This was his first coaster of the day. He asked Guest Service what rides were safe for him to ride and the employee there told him that all rides were safe for him. According to the article, a rides employee even lifted this man into the ride, probably seeing closely how the man's body was being restrained.

And if that is true, Darien Lake is in really big trouble. People who don't visit roller coaster websites, or belong to a roller coaster club, or have never worked at an amusement park before, really do not have even a general understanding of how people are restrained on a coaster.

I wonder if there was a conversation (maybe drama, even) on the ride platform about whether or not he should ride, with the loser of the argument being the voice of reason?

Last edited by LostKause, Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:08 AM
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Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:25 AM
Rihard's avatar

Jeff said:


Rihard said:
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).

Hold on a second... The restraint did not apparently fail. It can't do something it wasn't designed to do. It does not seem appropriate at this point to blame Intamin.

You're right. It didn't fail in the sense that it flew open or didn't lock. The lap bar failed to restrain the rider due to improper use. This is why I said the bar was know to fail if not used properly by the rider and/or corrected by the operator. Meaning the entire process failed. The point I was trying to make is that the lap-bar has a notorious history and the crews on those rides should be made aware of it. With that information the crews should be more scrutinous of their riders and this may not have happened.

At the end of my post I said this failure falls on the ride crews oversight and/or lack of training. So I definitely didn't mean for it to sound like I was blaming Intamin. I do feel that Intamin and the parks could have and should have done more to those existing trains to prevent the reoccurance of these accidents. But that sentiment comes more from the past accidents than this one.

Last edited by Rihard, Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:38 AM

- R.A

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 11:47 AM

I wonder if there was a conversation (maybe drama, even) on the ride platform about whether or not he should ride, with the loser of the argument being the voice of reason?

Great point! I am an operator on Ravine Flyer II and Steel Dragon, and drama runs rampant. Guests will fight to the death about rules and regulations. I personally stick to the rulebook, and refer any concerns to management. Giving into a guest could result in a similar incident as Ride of Steel. I'm not saying this is what happened in this situation, but if pressure was put onto a frustrated operator they very well could have given in to avoid the conflict. Bottom line: train ride operators in dealing with guests with special accomidations

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 12:17 PM
67440Dodge's avatar

Great point! I am an operator on Ravine Flyer II and Steel Dragon, and drama runs rampant. Guests will fight to the death about rules and regulations. I personally stick to the rulebook, and refer any concerns to management. Giving into a guest could result in a similar incident as Ride of Steel. I'm not saying this is what happened in this situation, but if pressure was put onto a frustrated operator they very well could have given in to avoid the conflict. Bottom line: train ride operators in dealing with guests with special accomidations

One thing I do like about the way SFGADV does with some of their rides is they have someone standing at the ride entrance with the height stick. Also, they have the demo seat if they feel you can't fit. Not tall enough or can't sit in the seat and have the restraints hold you, you don't even get in line. That helps out keep someone from standing in line for awhile only to find out they are too short/overweight to ride and pressuring the ride ops to let them ride.

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