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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Monday, July 11, 2011 2:05 AM
LostKause's avatar

How could the employees of that coaster be allowed to operate that coaster without knowing who could and could not safely ride? Whether it is true or not, this makes those employed by the park look very incapable of ensuring the safety of park guests. Management has a big problem.

What can they do to perhaps prevent this from happening again? Find a better way to train? Retrain every few weeks? Emphasize training for all of their employees. Maybe they need to get an outside company to help with that.

They can do better. We only hear about the really bad stuff. What about the close calls where no one was hurt? This coaster has had too many problems, and the park needs to figure out what is going wrong.

They can do better.


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Monday, July 11, 2011 3:05 AM
obxKevin's avatar

While we don't know exactly what transpired, we can think about what has been said so far, hearsay or not...

Agreed about employees not knowing who can safely ride the machine they're operating. I mean, c'mon, really. Whether or not guest services told him he could ride everything safely, the ride ops should and more than likely do have the final say on who goes and who doesn't.

How may times have we heard grumblings about kids getting official height checks at Cedar Point only to be turned away on the ride op's authority? I don't see that it really matter what signs were or were not read by whom.

Last edited by obxKevin, Monday, July 11, 2011 3:07 AM
The poster formerly known as 'Zcorpius.' Joined 2004
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Monday, July 11, 2011 6:23 AM

Do we know if he was wearing prosthetic legs at the time? And, if so, was he wearing pants or shorts? If he was assisted by family members into the train, and he had on prosthetics, then maybe the ride ops get a pass. If either of those facts isn't true then the blame will, unfortunately, rest with them.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 8:37 AM
Pagoda Gift Shop's avatar

I have a read at least one article where his sister, Jody, claims that she did not think he was wearing prosthetic legs. However, no official reports have been made as of yet.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 8:39 AM
eightdotthree's avatar

"And on the first turn, this kid with no legs, he flies out of the car," said Sommer.

Sounds like everyone knew he had no legs. This is a very sad and preventable incident. Did he have an exit pass or did he wait in line?


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Monday, July 11, 2011 11:39 AM

Here's a link to another news story on the accident -- nothing 'new' there, though other than the fact that it has a picture of him at home in his wheelchair. No left leg at all and only the upper part of his right thigh....


--George H

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Monday, July 11, 2011 11:43 AM

Regarding the MF seat belt, thanks for the answer. I couldn't remember for sure if it opened that way or not. Looking at the water dummies, you would HAVE to have the seat belt to keep them in the train, as the lap bar is useless in regards to them.

The warning sign says it clearly, but, it got me thinking. The sign is at the entrance to the ride, but ADA says to use the exit ramp. Shouldn't the warning also be at the exit ramp in case someone misses the sign at the entrance (since they would be using the exit ramp in wheelchair)?


Fever I really enjoy the Simpsons. It's just a shame that I am starting to LOOK like Homer.
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Monday, July 11, 2011 11:57 AM

First of all I would like to say how very sad this is. I am very thankful for all of our troops and wouldn't want to hold them back from doing anything they wanted to do to enjoy life. They do need to make these rides safer for people.

That being said my husband had his right ankle amputated in 2008 due to a drunk driver hitting him on his motorcycle in 2000. We have purchased Six Flags season passed every year since then for our family because it doesnt hurt him to walk anymore as it did before the surgury. He loves to ride the rides with our daughters! So we visited the park on July 10th. Him and one of our daughters got on the titan , got buckled up and everything ,when they stopped the ride and told him he had to get off because he didnt have both legs!! He has all of his leg down to his ankle. We were so upset for him to be treated like a disease!! He has rode every ride there since 2008 and now all of a sudden he is to handicap to ride. They hadnt even put up a sign saying "YOU MUST HAVE ALL LIMBS TO RIDE." They wait til you have waited in the long lines to kick you off the ride and embarrass you. Accidents are going to happen anywhere you go! How many times has the texas giant come off the tracks?!?! And I see it is still up and running! How many people have died for the heat down here and I dont see them closing when it gets hot!!! And they sure dont mind charging you the same price for a ticket as someone how is allowed to ride everything! Maybe they need straps that come down over your sholders to hold you down instead of just a lap bar, I dont know, but treating people like that is just not ok. Anyways sorry to vent off the subject! It just upsets me for someone to be treated like this because of an accident.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 12:13 PM

Not to be disrespectful but this isn't even in the same league as your husband's situation. How would you feel if your daughter had to watch her father be ejected from the ride? Maybe the parks policies changed. Maybe it was left up to individual interpertation as to what constitutes a leg. Just because you're aways done something doesn't mean you will always be able to in the future. Maybe your husband has just gotten lucky.

If one of the ride ops had caused a "scene" in this instance we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 12:15 PM

I actually have some experience with this.. maybe it was just a less politically correct time, but I seem to remember ride ops at Six Flags not letting my friend (with half of each leg missing) go on a couple of rides back when I was a kid. I am going back 20 years though. They did let him enter through the exit, and not wait in line... I remember taking repeated laps on Roaring Rapids because the raft kept ending up on the "wrong" side, opposite his wheelchair.

Last edited by billb7581, Monday, July 11, 2011 12:17 PM
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Monday, July 11, 2011 1:12 PM

Somebody mentioned above about retraining employees every few weeks, why not do that?

I work at a plant that makes large aluminum castings for the aerospace industry. Currently, we are rebuilding the second largest forging press in the world. Every week, we have safety meetings. Most of the topics are boring, mundane and repetative... However, they etch into your head after hearing them over and over. Even if supervisors do a few rides a week where they do a quick 1/2 to 1hr training refresher on safety, procedure, etc... This could have been avoided.

I worked at GL on both Steel Venom and X-Flight, and sure the job is easy... However, it still can be very dangerous. We made sure to watch for heights very closely, along with the limb rule that we had to follow. But some were questionable in which we contacted supervision.

You can not train enough, honestly. Especially safety related. Even if you just spend a few minutes every morning to go over one "hot topic" of the week, that is an excellent refresher. It does not take long. One week, train on checking heights properly, another on the loose article policy, checking bars, rider requirements (limbs, maximum height), etc...

Just my .02... Terrible that this has happened, but it really seems to me it was ride operator fault, for sure. They should of denied boarding if they knew about his lack of lower limbs, sadly.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 1:23 PM
eightdotthree's avatar

Curtis said:
If one of the ride ops had caused a "scene" in this instance we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

So true. I keep running the situation through my head and wonder how I would have reacted had I watched him enter the train.


SteveWoA said:
Somebody mentioned above about retraining employees every few weeks, why not do that?

To most of us who post here, this was an obvious situation where someone should not have been allowed to ride. We know how the restraints work as well as the history of the restraint system. The employees running the ride should have the same knowledge and be reminded of it often.


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Monday, July 11, 2011 3:31 PM

Let's put aside the fact that Sgt. Hackemer has no legs. As a ride operator, having someone with such a physical disability try to ride your ride is a very rare.

Let's look at the fact that Sgt. Hackemer stood about three feet tall (according to this article: http://goo.gl/PLjb4). For any ride operator, encountering a guest who is too short too ride happens multiple times every day. At any park I can think of, height restrictions are enforced very strictly. In six years of operating, training, and supervising others operating a variety of rides, I have never seen an operator give in to pressure of letting someone on who is too short to ride. And letting someone on who is 18 inches too short? That's just madness. I can understand the operators not being sure about someone who has partial/no legs (the supervisor obviously should have been called to handle this), but the height alone of this rider should have been a definite NO to riding the ride.

If it's true that Sgt. Hackemer was very insistent about riding, there would be no amount of station drama that would cause me to send the train with him in it, and frankly, I don't understand how the operators were able to do this.

Last edited by Scottt, Monday, July 11, 2011 3:32 PM
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Monday, July 11, 2011 4:44 PM

I believe i said i vented off the subject and it may not be the same but the fact is let u be handicap and be told no you cant do things you have always been able to do and see how much changes. Especially when it can be done if they werent so cheap on the safety equipment! You cant wrap people in a bubble their whole life because they are different. The rides should be more secure instead of just a lap bar! He lost his legs fighting for us and our freedom. He already wasnt going to walk ever again and now he shouldnt be able to enjoy a roller coaster ever again also! Sorry I dont agree with that! Im sorry he died but atleast he was having fun instead of being pushed around the theme park watching everyone else have fun. When it is your time, its your time, so enjoy the best you can.

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Monday, July 11, 2011 5:00 PM
Jeff's avatar

moments said:
The rides should be more secure instead of just a lap bar! He lost his legs fighting for us and our freedom. He already wasnt going to walk ever again and now he shouldnt be able to enjoy a roller coaster ever again also!

That's probably the reason someone let him ride, and he paid with his life.

With all due respect, because you're new here, you should probably take into consideration that there are a lot of people here a lot more familiar with amusement rides and the restraint systems. A lap bar (and redundant safety belt) is a very reliable and well tested restraint device that can accommodate all but a fraction of a percent of people, and it can do so very quickly. These rides would give far fewer rides if the restraint system were any more complicated.


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

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Monday, July 11, 2011 5:12 PM
Lord Gonchar's avatar

moments said:
The rides should be more secure instead of just a lap bar! He lost his legs fighting for us and our freedom. He already wasnt going to walk ever again and now he shouldnt be able to enjoy a roller coaster ever again also! Sorry I dont agree with that!

That man gave about as much as one can for all of us and I can't begin to express the gratitude felt for him and others in his situation. However...

All things cannot accomodate all people.

The second he was injured, his life changed forever. He gave a hell of a lot for us (including his ability to walk, ride coasters, etc.) - hence, the sacrifice involved.

Last edited by Lord Gonchar, Monday, July 11, 2011 5:13 PM
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Monday, July 11, 2011 5:17 PM
LostKause's avatar

Moments, Who is being cheap on safety equipment? I don't understand.

People who are disabled know that they will be somewhat limited in things that they can do. It's normal. If they don't understand this, then they will after being turned away from some activities, as it is part of the process of accepting their situation and learning to live with it. Of course some people with disabilities can do extraordinary things, but this isn't unlimited. For example, a blind girl can't play video games, or an old man with osteoporosis can't compete in the Olympic ski jump competition.

Something you seem not to understand also, ride restraints are designed for the majority of people, but a lot of ride restraints can not accompany everyone (not at issue here is people who are overweight. I'll leave it as an example as to not confuse the subject).

Intamin's hypercoaster lap bar restraint can not safely keep a person with no legs from falling out. That's just the way it is. I, for one, don't want to have to have an overly complicated restraining system to hook into every time I go to a park, just so the 2 or 3 people with certain disabilities at the park that day (who may not even be interested in riding a big coaster) are able to ride the coaster. It would throw a wrench in the system of quickly dispatching trains, and would be terribly difficult to design, and maintain.

...With all due respect to people with disabilities, of course. I want people with disabilities to reasonably be able to do everything that reasonably allows them to live a full and happy life.

Edit - Jeff and Gonch said it more eloquently, with less words, than I did...

Last edited by LostKause, Monday, July 11, 2011 5:19 PM
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Monday, July 11, 2011 5:34 PM

LostKause said:
For example, a blind girl can't play video games...

There is one deaf, dumb and blind kid I know who sure plays a mean pinball. ;)

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(Not meaning to poke fun at a devastatingly terrible event -- just thought we could use a moment of levity right about now.)


My author website: mgrantroberts.com

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Monday, July 11, 2011 6:06 PM
Bakeman31092's avatar

I have no way of knowing if Darien Lake's handicapped rider procedure is the same as Cedar Point's, but I'm pretty familiar with CP's because my wife has had numerous leg and knee problems and we've had to utilize the special access pass several times. When the folks at Park Ops issue us the booklet, they ask about the nature of my wife's disability and mark any rides that she wouldn't be able to ride accordingly.

It seems like this is a good first line of defense against this sort of accident. Before a disabled guest gets on a ride, they have to stop by a designated place where the workers can properly assess the nature of his or her disability and let that person know ahead of time what rides he or she can't ride. This would take the burden off of the "overworked 18-year-olds," as many of you have pointed out, and place it in the hands of people who are more qualified and specifically trained to deal with these situations.

I just wonder what Darien Lake's policy is. I would imagine it would be something similar, but if so then it's even harder to imagine how this happened.

Last edited by Bakeman31092, Monday, July 11, 2011 6:07 PM
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Monday, July 11, 2011 8:33 PM

just so the 2 or 3 people with certain disabilities at the park that day

Kinda like the 2 or 3 people looking for a hotel near SFGA

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