Sheriff: no charges against Darien Lake in coaster death, but says park broke its own rules

Posted Wednesday, July 13, 2011 11:37 AM | Contributed by Jeff

The Genesee County Sheriff says Darien Lake will not face criminal charges in the death of a legless Iraq war veteran who fell from the Ride of Steel roller coaster last week. Sergeant James Hackemer was killed Friday when he was thrown from the ride. The Sheriff notes that the park's own rules prohibited riders who do not have two legs.

Read more from WHEC/Rochester and AP via Greenwich Time.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 11:58 AM

"Investigators found no criminal activity, including intent. Yet the ride operators, who were not identified, "clearly knew" Hackemer shouldn't have been riding but offered no explanation for why they let him on.

"Darien Lake violated their own policies and procedures by letting him get on the ride," Maha said."


Clearly knew he shouldn't ride but offered no explanation?!?!? WTF?!? This is a perfect example of (1) kids today just are absolutely clueless and "checked out" when it comes to any sort of responsibility and (2) why all ride operators should be 18 years of age. How can any operations department function if they do all the correct training and still employees do not follow rules and regulations? These are life and death matters, it's not like handing out written warnings is acceptable in situations like this. I certainly hope Darien Lake terminated the crew working during this tragic day, they sound completely incompetent to be operating a ride of this nature.

Last edited by mlnem4s, Wednesday, July 13, 2011 11:59 AM
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:02 PM

mlnem4s said:
How can any operations department function if they do all the correct training and still employees do not follow rules and regulations?

This has been a long time peeve of mine when people start yelling, "Improper training!" around here.

You can tell someone something 100 times every day and it still doesn't mean they're going to do it. In fact, my experience says most of the time it isn't improper training, but rather employees who simply don't follow what they been told and taught.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:12 PM

And like you guys mentioned on the last podcast: even if they talked about it to him, he probably could have talked them into letting him on.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:15 PM

I used to manage a rides department and in my experience some of my under 18 employees were more responsible and better employees than the 18+. Especially some of the older ones, when you think about it, there is a reason some of these adults are working a seasonal low paying job. But I will say a majority of the adults were awesome, too.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:21 PM

mlnem4s said:
Clearly knew he shouldn't ride but offered no explanation?!?!? WTF?!? This is a perfect example of (1) kids today just are absolutely clueless and "checked out" when it comes to any sort of responsibility and (2) why all ride operators should be 18 years of age.

I'm sorry, did I miss a story where they listed the ages of the ride ops on duty or are you just talking out of your a**?

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:25 PM

I'm going to go with talking out of his ass. That's a ridiculous generalization to make. If there's any problem, it's an HR hiring problem. The competition even for these jobs is high. They can find the right people to staff their rides.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:54 PM

First off, it's a shame that this incident happened. And it's even more shamefully that it happened to an Iraq war veteran. I curious to know if the operators allowed him to ride having sympathy with him being a disable Iraq war veteran? And would this incident get less media coverage and less attention from Congress if he wasn't an Iraq war veteran?

But, now someone needs to accept blame and responsibility. Hence the blame game now convenes. And, to investigate if any changes (whether legislature, training, or ride modification) could have been this tragedy.
While most theme park/ water park attractions have their extensive warning signs, does this protect the park/ ride manufacturer? And does it place the responsibility in the hands of the rider? As most of us know, the warning signs are fairly extensive and sometimes placed at the top of the ride. (instead of the entrance). And how often does someone read the entire sign? I've seen signs that would probably eliminate the vast majority of riders.

Regarding teenage ride operators, I have had a good, but mixed feeling about working alongside them. I've worked at a major theme park and water park in the past. At the water park, most of the lifeguards were 16-18. And for the most part, they were all pretty mature and well-behaved. After working at the water park, I have a high appreciation of how well they handle a tough, fun job. But note, that my training at both the water park and theme park was fairly extensive, but not all complete.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:56 PM

As I said on the original thread, CP has a system where a disabled person first has to go to Park Operations to receive a special access pass, where employees who are specifically trained (I would imagine) can assess the nature of the individual's disability and mark off any rides that he or she is not permitted to ride. That way, the ride host doesn't have to make the call.

Obviously, there are ways to circumvent this system as well, but I'm just curious as to whether or not Darien Lake has a similar policy, or if disabled people can go from ride to ride at their leisure.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 1:01 PM

Jeff,

Certainly agree as "they can find the right people to staff their rides". Unfortunately, I attended the "job fair" at Six Flags Over Texas in the winter of 2010. There were a few hundred people there, of mixed generations. Despite arriving early, I still had to wait not only for an interview, but to wait in line to turn in the paperwork. Despite, filling out the application online. Note, the online application consists of a few dozen questions. I needed a job, but didn't get a call back. It was one of my "career lows", but I wanted to get my "foot" back in the door in the industry.

But, in a nutshell, Six Flags (Over Texas) did have their hands full on that "Job Fair" in finding qualified applicants.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 1:42 PM

Random reactions:

It doesn't matter if this vicitim was a war veteran or not. A man with no legs got thrown out of a roller coaster and was killed. That story leads regardless.

I certainly don't want to go all Markey here...but how does the individual ride operator in the Dells get charged with a crime but no individual nor the company gets charged in what, in my mind, is a similar situation in New York? That just doesn't jive.

I didn't see any reference to the rider operators, ages and yes...I've seen plenty of 17 year olds who were more mature than many 30 year olds. That said, I do think you have to draw a line in the sand and considering most of these rides could be construed as "heavy machinery" I think 18 years old probably makes sense. There are plenty of other jobs for kids younger than 18 in an amusement park.

As to who gets assigned to what job at an amusement park...I'm going to risk some ridicule here but I suspect that there is still a good deal of "profiling" going on when hiring. "That gal looks like a ride operator...that guy looks like a back of the house employee...etc." Maybe not the best way to fill your positions. (Some of my best employees were kids the rides department passed on...and likely for asthetic reasons. Maybe things have changed a lot...but I doubt it.

If Bakeman's description of the current Cedar Point policy regarding disabled riders is correct then I think that is a pretty good standard for the rest of the industry to follow. It does take the onus off of the ride operator. Will it prevent EVERY tragedy? Probably not. But, it is a good step toward making the next one less likely.

Last edited by wahoo skipper, Wednesday, July 13, 2011 1:45 PM
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:09 PM

Well, how do you think his nephew feels right now? I can't imagine that he is that old since Hackemer was 29. He has to feel horrible.

Do you think any of the ride ops are having regrets knowing that they allowed themselves to make a decision that caused a man his life?

Should not have happened. Period.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:13 PM

Ultimately we as riders are responsible for our own safety on these rides, not a worker making minimum wage. It is our own responsbility to make sure the restraints are tight, and to realize if we do not properly fit on a ride.

To sit down on a ride and believe that the ride op is guaranteeing that you are safely restrained is a big mistake.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:39 PM

It's also possible that the lawyers have told the ride ops not to say anything yet.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:54 PM

super7* said:
To sit down on a ride and believe that the ride op is guaranteeing that you are safely restrained is a big mistake.

But if you sit down on a ride and the bar comes down against your body and the ride is allowed to be dispatched (by the ride's computer that determines if a restraint is sufficiently down), then at that point you are placing your trust in the design, not the ride operator. How easily could someone with no legs tell whether or not they are secured? There's no way to predict how your body and the restraint system will react to the forces that the ride will produce.

To me, this is a system failure much more than any individual failure, be it the rider or the ride host. Only the ride manufacturer truly knows the limitations of their restraint system. It's their job to communicate that to the customer, Darien Lake in this case, whose job it is then to establish a policy to make sure that all guests comply with the manufacturer's recommendations. If DL's policy is to post signs and leave it up to the discretion of the riders and ride hosts, then that's a dangerous situation.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:56 PM

^^But how the heck am I supposed to know what is or isn't safe riding behavior? Especially when the signs list "keep hands on grab bar at all times" in the same font as "Don't ride if you don't have legs."

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:56 PM

Just because an employee makes minimum wage doesn't mean that they can't be responsible. Wage is irrelevant. In fact, many of these kids working in these amusement parks will be your future doctors, lawyers and engineers. Give them a break!

20 years ago when I had my first job there were kids who were responsible and those who were not. Nothing is different today.

wahoo skipper, the guy in the Wisconsin Dells accident should not have been charged with a crime. The difference here is you don't have some crusading DA trying to pave a new path on defining what is a criminal act. Unfortunately, like Wisconsin Dells this is an accident as a result of someone failing to do something they should have done. The problem and the fact is that humans make mistakes and we're not perfect.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:00 PM

Agreed. The Dells accident was awful, but I've never been convinced the guy committed a crime. It's not illegal to be a moron.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:15 PM

Yeah, I should have been more clear. I wasn't advocating that the NY cases should have resulted in individual charges. More that I still find it absurd that the operator in the Dells was charge. But, this might be a case where a national standard that protects the ride ops might be called for.

super7, I couldn't disagree with you more. I think the ultimate responsiblity is on the company and its representatives who built, run and maintain the equipment...and have been given all necessary information from the manufacturer as to the safety standards.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:27 PM

I'm actually relieved, and think the Sheriff is even pushing it to say the park broke its own rules.

Is what happened tragic? Yes.
Did anything that happened warrant arrests or litigation? Absolutely not.

It might be an unpopular opinion, but the guy, war vet or not, directly disobeyed a posted (and alarmingly specific) park rule - a rule that you implicitly agree to abide by as a patron of the park. Heck, I'd bet money that there's language in the fine print of Six Flags' tickets that says something to the effect of "by purchasing this ticket, the buyer agrees to abide by all posted warning signs on Six Flags property. Six Flags is not responsible for loss or damage resulting from disobeying these rules" (I'd check a leftover ticket for particulars, but I'm at work).


To summarize:
Should the vet have stopped himself from riding? Yes. In lieu of that, should the ride ops have stopped him from riding? Yes. Is it their job to stop him riding? Yes. Should they therefore be fired for allowing him to ride? I say yes, but that's a personal opinion. However, is it their legal obligation to stop him from riding? I highly, highly doubt it, and congressional idiocy aside, that's a huge part of why you won't see litigation here.

So... tragic, yes. Criminal, no.

Last edited by BBSpeed26, Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:32 PM
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