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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Sunday, July 10, 2011 12:26 PM
LostKause's avatar

AJFelice said:

LK said:

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

My imagining (speculation and daydreaming, really) was more of drama between fellow ride operators, and didn't include the victim, but now that you mention it, he did get the okay from guest services to ride. He could have used that permission within any argument he may have had with ride operators.
I only say this because I, too, use to be a ride operator and have been in similar situations. It is all speculation, of course, and in no way helpful to a factual determining of what really happened. I think that is partly why this upsets me so much.

Last edited by LostKause, Sunday, July 10, 2011 12:26 PM
Sunday, July 10, 2011 1:58 PM

This is a terrible, horrible event. A sad loss of one of America's finest, and a catastrophe for Darien Lake.

That being said, I do wish to point out that the comments in the article attributed to park personnel ("You can ride everything..."), were passed on to the newspaper by Sgt. Hackemer's nephew. If we're talking about a court of law (which is probable, evidently), that's hearsay and most likely not admissable testimony. And honestly, unless we hear corroborating accounts from other sources, we can't really know that was what was said.

None of this in any way detracts from the other issues of culpability that may weigh on the park. What a sad event. My condolences to his loved ones.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:16 PM
LostKause's avatar

Mike Roberts, from my experience watching Judge Judy ( :) ), it's not going to be hearsay if the person on the witness stand is Hackmer's nephew, stating that he was part of the conversation about what was safe for Sgt. Hackmer to ride.

It wouldn't be that difficult to call said employee to the witness stand to testify, or just use a statement of the conversation as evidence in the case.

Krafty said:
The article does not say anything about him speaking with Guest Services. They said they spoke with a park employee. For all we know that could have been a sweep or a ticket taker who misunderstood the question to be "are the rides here safe?" and not "are the rides here safe for me, a double amputee?"

I don't know about that. The article says...

"They're all fine," a guest-services worker said.

I suppose a "guest-service worker" could be just about anyone in the park, but in my experience with working at a park, guests with disabilities are told to visit the park operations office, or "guest services", or customer service, or whatever you a particular park calls it, and they can inform the guest of what they can safely ride and do at the park. It's commonplace for the people at the entrance of most every large park to let people with disabilities know where to go for information and instructions on special access.

Last edited by LostKause, Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:18 PM
Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:16 PM
mlnem4s's avatar

One thing I find very interesting in how parks approach the issue of disabled guests is what I have found on their internet web sites.

Upfront I will admit I am biased to Cedar Point and the entire park operations staff there but seriously, they have worked incredibly hard to spell out EXACTLY what all guests, disabled or not, can ride safely at CP. Everything a disabled guest needs to know is spelled out perfectly clear via a link on the CP web site informing that guest prior to arriving at the park. Having worked for Cedar Fair I know that every ride and area supervisor also has that information right at hand in case there is any question or issue with a guest. This should be the industry standard across the board, period.

Not to slam Darien Lake but looking at their web site there is little, if any, information for disabled guests and ride requirements for them. I would hope (frankly I pray) that their guest relations has accurate ride requirement information for disabled guests and what we are hearing today about their response to this family about what Sgt Hackemer could ride is untrue. If not, then clearly a "cleaning of house" needs to be done for anyone in full-time management who has any responsibility for park operations, you just can't operate like this in today's world.

Last edited by mlnem4s, Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:17 PM
Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:20 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

I'm not sure how you can draw any conclusion about society at large (Political correctness or litigiousness or whatever) from this incident. Seems like we all have predefined opinions about "what's wrong with the world (TM)" and just bring them out whenever anecdotal evidence might support it.

My real question:
I understand that many incidents involving these particular lap bars are some form of human error, rather than design flaw (flume accidents aside) but I have to assume the amount of human error on Morgan, B&M, and Arrow hypers and with PTC trains is about the same. Why don't we see a similar number of accidents on those trains? Heck, even Anton's coaster have a ton of airtime and (as far as I know) haven't ejected anyone. What is it about these Intamin lap bars that make them so susceptible to ejection caused by human error.

Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:25 PM
LostKause's avatar

Wow, minem4s, I wasn't aware that it wasn't already industry standard to have a guide for guests with disabilities easily available. I hope you are wrong!

Any large park that isn't allowing easy access to this kind of information right now should consider doing so asap! It's not that difficult to gather info and put it in a pamphlet. It can save lives.

Sunday, July 10, 2011 2:57 PM

wahoo skipper said:
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.

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.

I completely agree, but you would face a gigantic roadblock, no matter how many people in the industry (or even outside it) feel this kind of approach would be appropriate and needed. The ADA. There are so many conditions that can't be seen like a mobility issue, and the ADA proponents would likely be able to claim it as discrimination against those with mobility issues, because no one else is being "singled out" (because you can't say someone has a heart issue by looking at them).

Original BlueStreak64

Sunday, July 10, 2011 3:36 PM
DawgByte II's avatar

Here's 2 things that bothered me about this incident....

1) In today's paper of the Buffalo News, (Buffalo News Article) they entire Hackemer family do not place ANY blame what-so-ever on Darien Lake what-so-ever! I don't know how long this will keep up, but they keep stressing that he died what he loved doing, I quote "I have no doubt in my mind that he died happy" says his sister Jody Hackemer, his brother also quoted as saying "He was doing what he wanted, he wanted nothing but this. He was doing what he loved, That's what gives me peace".

Chillingly strange, because even his parents agree... parents & siblings both agree & place no fault on the park... as if they grow to accept that his two daughters no longer have a daddy to grow up with.

2) Now, of course... if it hasn't been discussed yet, Ed Markey is flapping his gums yet again because of THIS incident... as noted here, he is stating and I quote "Democrat Edward Markey supports a bill he says will close loopholes and bring federal oversight with the consumer product safety commission in to inspect amusement parks"... despite the facts that rollercoasters are more safer than ever, what loopholes are they really missing? *sigh*

Sunday, July 10, 2011 3:58 PM

Question about the water dummies...did MF open with seatbelts in 2000?

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Sunday, July 10, 2011 4:47 PM

SVLFever said:
Question about the water dummies...did MF open with seatbelts in 2000?

MF has always had some form of seatbelt since day one (well, at least as close to day 1 as I was there.) They have changed length, routing, etc., but there have always been some form of seatbelts on MF.

Sunday, July 10, 2011 5:12 PM
Jeff's avatar

Rihard said:
This tragedy could have been prevented if Intamin and the parks would work together and spend the money correct the trains (Dragster).

So I definitely didn't mean for it to sound like I was blaming Intamin.


Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Silly Nonsense

Sunday, July 10, 2011 5:27 PM
LostKause's avatar

I know from being there that MF had seat belts even before it opened to the public. :)

Sunday, July 10, 2011 6:16 PM
CoasterDiscern's avatar

First off, I have to say I'm extremely tardy, and I'm blown away learning of this news.

After trying to understand everyone and their responses on ride restraints I have some information to add myself.

I was at Canada's Wonderland on Monday with my family, and had a delightful day. I got two rides in on Behemoth which were both fantastic. Now the second ride, me and my very young nephew were waiting for the front seat and were next to board the train when we were interrupted by two males standing on the opposite side of the station. The two males were granted our front seats, no problem!!

The two males eagerly took their seats. One of the males seem to be too large for the seat. The B&M restraint was locked in, but the ride operator kept looking at some area of the bar to see how far down it was. He was locked in, but she kept signalling the operator in the control room to release the restraints. I was precariously looking too. The two ride operators must have did this three times, and then a third operator came in to assist, and was actually forcing the restraint down so they could dispatch the train. Everything was being held up. They released the restraints and tried one more time. The restraint locked, and the ride operator looked, checked again and said, no! He didn't ride, and his companion went alone. I have no idea what the ride operator was looking at, but after reading all the responses to the tragedy at Darien Lake, it has me thinking.

Really too bad this happened. :(

Last edited by CoasterDiscern, Sunday, July 10, 2011 6:24 PM
Ask not what you can do for a coaster, but what a coaster can do for you.
Sunday, July 10, 2011 6:55 PM

^ B&M hypers (and flyers) have sensors for each restraint to verify that it is down far enough. If one of the restraints isn't down far enough, the light for that row will be flashing on the main panel, if it is down far enough, the light will be solid. This is either 2 or 3 clicks.

2012 SFGAm Visits: 26 2012 Season Whizzer Rides: 84 X Flight Rides: 91

Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:49 PM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar

I can't believe he went to guest services and was told he could ride everything. That shifts everything from being a ride operator error to being a complete operational safety failure.

How could you trust Darien Lake's safety procedures after a huge blunder like this?

Sunday, July 10, 2011 10:52 PM
Tekwardo's avatar

We don't know for a fact that he was told that though. Just because his nephew said it doesn't mean that it happened.

Regardless, if you don't have a lap, and by the photo it's pretty obvious this guy didn't, you should still know yourself that a lap bar can't restrain you. He sadly bares some responsibility for riding. It shouldn't take much education to realize that he wasn't restrained.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 12:59 AM
rollergator's avatar

Upon further reflection, I think his military service might have been detrimental in terms of his consideration of the potential dangers....after all, if you've survived combat where people are actually TRYING to kill you, how can a simple roller coaster possibly do you harm? In no way am I trying to "blame the victim", just got finished reading a small-town news article on the incident and it made me reflect on the psychology of the situation - the article even brought up the support groups and activities that are intended to bring about a sense of a "return to normalcy" after being engaged in miliary action. Just something to consider...

Monday, July 11, 2011 1:13 AM

Rihard said:
... 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....

Wait a minute...

I knew there was something going on with this conversation that bothered me...

What notorious history are you talking about?

Before Friday, there were NO rider ejections from the restraint in use on Ride of Steel.

Remember, the restraint being used on Ride of Steel is somewhat unique. It has been used on only three coasters (Superman: Ride of Steel at Darien Lake and at two Six Flags parks) and is presently used on only two (Darien Lake, and the one in Maryland). Since its installation in 2004, there have been no rider ejections. The restraint was designed specifically to eliminate the problem of ejected riders from under the original restraint, and until Friday it seems it has done reasonably well.

I realize that seems nit-picky, but it is an important distinction. Likewise, I understand that Intamin has specific rules for amputees with regard to their restraints, but now that I think about it, I wonder if those rules technically apply to this ride. So far as I am aware, the restraint being used on Ride of Steel and on Superman: Ride of Steel was not designed by Intamin, and may not have been approved by them; this was done by Six Flags' engineering team. Again, it's easy to say that the rule should be the same, but there is still an important distinction.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

Monday, July 11, 2011 1:27 AM
CoasterDiscern's avatar

I agree with you wholeheartedly Gator. Sometimes it is easier to draw conclusions based on what is right and what is wrong in our own minds instead of understanding what is going on with that persons thinking.

I also believe we tend to assume other people have the same type of knowledge about roller coasters and amusements parks as enthusiast's do. We are dedicated and passionate to the hobby, and I know I'm speaking on behalf of many people when I say that. I personally do not know how many roller coasters this war veteran may or may not have ridden, nor do I know about the knowledge he has about rides and their mechanics. Its imperative we don't assume he knows what a t-bar is, or an over the lap restraint. Everyone in my family still refers to the t-bar as, "the bar", or even better, "the ride only has one bar across the waist and its so high the first drop". People are aware that coasters are extremely safe, and thats what they go on.

I've been on SROS many times at Darien Lake, and I would be impudent to not care about this situation.

Last edited by CoasterDiscern, Monday, July 11, 2011 1:30 AM
Monday, July 11, 2011 1:49 AM
Jeff's avatar

The sign with the legalese and restrictions on it I'm sure is something no one ever reads, but at the same time, it pretty much spells out the policy: You need two legs. It would seem they did not follow their own rules.

Jeff - Editor - - My Blog - Silly Nonsense


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