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 3:30 PM

wahoo skipper said:
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.

I think you're both just missing it. :)

Neither side holds 100% of the responsibility. You're in it together.

To mindlessly put you safety in the hands of another is the definition of irresponsible to me.

To expect the guest to understand the ride 100% is equally irresponsible.

It's takes both sides to complete the equation as neither has 100% of the info necessary to guarantee safety.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:34 PM

While it seems that they are not going to hold the park et al criminally responsible, you can bet that a civil suit for negligence will be filed soon.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 3:57 PM

Bakeman31092 said:

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.

If this was a B&M you would have had the exact same problem. To me this incident would have had the exact same result no matter the restraint aside from maybe an OTSR. Any restraint system assumes that the rider has a lower body. To lay the blame on Intamin is a load of malarkey.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:02 PM

Lord Gonchar said:

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.

Exactly, it's not really about the training. In my experience, all training, -whether good, bad, thorough or incomplete - has little to do with daily execution. People don't learn from formal training. They learn by peer example and company culture. People don't generally fail to enforce a rule because they are ignorant of the rule. They follow the rules that they have gotten in the habit of following. Supervisor/crew leaders have a role in which rules get reinforced as well. Some crews/parks are extremely anal about every rule (Holiday World comes to mind). Others are more lax then they should be. It's not a difference in rules or training, it's a difference in attitude.

An extremely safety conscious company culture would perhaps have lead to the crew being on the lookout for such things and enforced the rules by the letter of the law. However, human nature is typically the opposite - avoid confrontation and just let things slide. So perhaps it didn't occur to them to ask him to get off. For instance, they were focused on making interval. The things they were in the habit of checking – lap belt is secure, etc – all looked fine so they gave the thumbs up out of rote. Possibly it did occur to them and they avoided the confrontation. Not saying that it was acceptable, just saying it's an element of human nature that has to be overcome.

Attitude and culture tends to trickle down from the top. It seems to me that the most critical component would be the hiring and nurturing of good crew leaders.

Last edited by decil76, Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:27 PM
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:22 PM

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Intamin as a company, but in this case I'm siding with most likely the ride manufacturer should not be held responsible at all for this. Knowing B&M and GCI manuals, and generally knowing how any of these manuals are written, there are very specific rules written out on handicapped riders. A double amputee is not safely secured on any ride with only a lapbar due to how the rider's lower legs keep them in a secure Z position guaranteeing they cannot be ejected from the ride. The other exceptions in which there have been ejections have been overly large individuals in which the lapbar does not come down far enough to lock you into a Z position (hence why rides have seatbelts or sensors to verify the bar has come down far enough). B&M mega coasters get around the Z position by having a large enough bar to force an L position and sensors to back up that the bar has come far enough down to lock the passenger in place.

Sooooo, all of that said, it is part of the training that the operators *should* have been taught to not make any exceptions on this rule. There is some leeway on a single leg amputee or other handicapped issues, but station operators do not make this judgement call. If there is any question, supervisors are supposed to be called in to assess the situation.

As for the age of 18 thing...believe me, age doesn't matter. Intelligence and a sense of responsibility for ones actions does. I am totally fine with 16 year olds running the ride. I've met plenty that have impressed me as operators. I've also met 18+ that I've wanted to toss off the ride, and at least one we removed from a ride crew before the ride even opened to the public due to "maturity" issues. And yes, he was over 18.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:24 PM

Gonch, I see where you are coming from. I'd say at the very least there is culpable negligence on the part of the ride operators who are agents of the theme park. If there is a lawsuit I guess the question is, how much of the responsibility lies with the victim?

I haven't seen the sign but if the sign did say "You Must Have Both Legs to Ride", as has been mentioned, then the victim has a certain percentage of blame as well. That will be up for the court to decide.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:50 PM

Brian, good to see you back here again!
* * *
Yet another reason to keep Intamin out of this one: do we know if Intamin assumes any liability at all for that train, given that apparently the modifications were made by Six Flags...the impression I got from media reports and the like at that time were that the modifications were being made in spite of Intamin, rather than in cooperation with them...
* * *
Personally, I am not at all surprised by the Sheriff's findings, particularly in light of the photo of the legal sign that someone posted. Personally, I think ride operators ought to be trained not only on the proper procedures, but also instructed in the theory behind some of the things that they do: why does the lap bar need to be down to the Nth position, how does it function to keep the rider in the seat, what exactly are we trying to accomplish by putting the height requirement at so-many inches, that kind of thing. Even some of the details...why do you check this lap bar by pulling, that one by pushing? Why is it wrong to pull straight up on some seats belt to check them?
* * *
Besides the obvious difference between New York and Wisconsin...(and for the record I thought it seemed improper to press criminal charges against the ride operator in the SCAD incident)...does it make a difference that the ride operator in Wisconsin did something wrong, while the ride operators in New York failed to do something right? Is there a legal difference between causing something to happen and allowing something to happen?

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 6:53 PM

Thanks Dave. Given the job change, I feel free to be able to talk more again :). As for the case, inaction at a time when you need to act that causes injury or death to another person still is criminal negligence. I don't believe charges should be brought in this case because of potential grey areas of responsibility, but I could easily see the family suing and winning against the park.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 7:03 PM

MagnumsRevenge said:


Bakeman31092 said:

To me, this is a system failure much more than any individual failure, be it the rider or the ride host.

If this was a B&M you would have had the exact same problem. To me this incident would have had the exact same result no matter the restraint aside from maybe an OTSR. Any restraint system assumes that the rider has a lower body. To lay the blame on Intamin is a load of malarkey.

I agree. When I said system failure, I meant the system that executes the policy, NOT the restraint system. Sorry for the confusion.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 7:59 PM

While we're talking about legal stuff here, I don't recall a similar situation where the victim's family said, "nah, it's ok - it's not the park's fault." Will that statement come back to bite them in the future when they change their mind and decide to sue? I assume it's not admissible evidence, but it's interesting.

Also, should the park get sued - if they prove that they've trained the employees in every way they are legally required to, and yet the employees decide to break the rules, who is ultimately responsible? Is it still the park, or is it now the employee?

For example, if a ride operator decided to make a ride unsafe (let's say unscrewing a wheel or something similar), and God forbid something were to happen, that employee would be charged, no? Isn't this the same type of situation? That is, providing the park did everything in their power to ensure that employees knew what they were doing...

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:39 PM

mfivsdarienlake said:

Also: Someone in another thread had brought up the sign about 2 legs being at the entrance of the ride, and if they would even read it going up the handicap ramp, but the same regulation sign is also posted on the exit ramp.


Yeah, that was me. I was wondering if it was there, as the wording of the sign makes me think that the guest service department isn't responsible for determining ride accessibility (like what is done at CP).

Thanks for answering my question.

^At the end of the day the park is resonsible, but the depth of the reponsibility changes if they are not negligent.

Last edited by SVLFever, Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:41 PM
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 8:43 PM

Why does every accident need to result in a lawsuit? I think it's a shame that there is so much talk about a lawsuit and the poor guy hasn't even received a proper burial yet. This country's obsession with lawsuits is disgusting.

In this case I put 50% of the blame on the operator and 50% of the blame on the rider. It's your responsibility to familiarize yourself and know the rules for each ride. If we give 50% to each party then they cancel each other out.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011 10:57 PM

It depends on the severity of the accident. If it was my kid (as in, I was 30 years older), yeah, I'd sue the park. No question about it. I would be angry, and I'd want to hold the park responsible, even if it was just for letting him ride. It's not even an issue of money. When something this serious happens, you don't get a free pass.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 2:36 AM

I typically don't like to encourage lawsuits as I feel there are already way too many frivolous ones. But in a serious case like this, I think it should happen because of such a devistating loss to the family that could have been avoided. Secondly lawsuits do bring about awareness and change. I will guarantee you news of this has been discussed at many parks and employees are being reminded or retaught procedures. It really does suck that it seems like problems are only examined and fixed after disasters happen.

I also can't help but put the majority of the blame here on the park, unless there is a decent amount of signage or instructions given to a handicapped person entering the park on what they can/can't do. The reason is who are the experts here? Park personnel are trained or at least should be with at least the general knowledge of what is safe or not on each ride. The GP have no training and therefore shouldn't be expected to know specifics beyond very basic things like don't hop the giant fence to retrieve your hat, idiot!

At Fantasy Island, again a few years ago, you had to be 18 to run the "big rides" but only 16 to run the kiddy section, slide, canoes, etc. I'm pretty sure there is some sort of regulation, at least in NY, about needing to be 18 as it's probably considered "heavy machinery"... but again I can't say for sure 100%. At the minimum, it was park policy.

Things like this bother me too. Unless this means any ride with machinery, I hate the distinction that seems to imply the bigger the ride, the more dangerous it is. We already know kiddie rides can kill just like giant roller-coasters when procedure isn't followed.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 2:51 AM

As much as it may or may not help the situation, to blame Intamin and the seats/restraints on the train is irrelevant to whom is at fault in this "serious" situation. Intamin signs over all responsibility of their product and soon as a park buys that product. Do you think that Intamin is designing and fabricating roller coasters for thrilling amputees?? Not necessarily a comment as it is more a question. Im putting my money on the idea that Intamin is designing their trains to support people who are completely mobile without the loss of any limbs or major body parts, as morbid as that may seem. I hate to sound like a A, but 99.99 percent of people that ride roller coasters are not missing any body parts. Intamin plays no responsibility in conjunction to the vets death.

The other point I feel I need to share, is one that has been pointed out already. I think there is as issue between Human Resources, and the people they choose to operate their rides. Ride operators with enough competence and personal responsibility to do the job. Likewise, their just not doing what they have been trained to do.

I might get burned up for this one, but I see a huge correlation between individuals with low incomes, and their attitudes towards their jobs. I have no solid evidence, but Im not ruling it out.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 5:07 AM

CoasterDiscern your opinion on "low incomes" is also my opinion. Certain parks, such as CP, hire a lot of their staff members from foreign countries and these people tend to do their jobs quite well with a smile on their faces. Other parks, like most of the Six Flags parks, seem to recruit their workers from lower income areas of town which creates the amazing lack of interest that most of their ride operators show. It's a sad reality that a lot of people working minimum wage jobs in our country don't actually appreciate the fact that they have a paying job - instead they do the least amount of work possible and possibly endanger others. I was at SFGAM yesterday and rode American Eagle, Whizzer, and Viper without a single person tugging on my lapbar at all, on Whizzer they didn't even bother touching the seatbelt. I of course immediately reported these events to the customer service desk but I don't really feel that anything will be done about it. The rideops in question looked miserable, dressed sloppily, and were pretty lethargic about the entire job. This is totally an HR problem - quit hiring lazy people that don't really want jobs, most of them can just grab some government handouts anyways and net the same (maybe even higher) income. I won't get any more specific on the details of these rideops, but they all had something in common.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 10:36 AM

^ At SFGAm, the seatbelts are, and have for as long as I can remember been a visual check that it is fastened.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 11:56 AM

http://www.buffalonews.com/city/article487295.ece

** At 4:06 p.m. Friday, a security camera recorded Hackemer in a wheelchair arriving at Darien Lake Theme Park's guest services office to find out procedures for how disabled individuals board rides.

"He asked about his ability to go on the rides and how to get on them. They explained to him that you go up the exit ramps," Sheriff Gary T. Maha said.

"Guest services tried to give him a pamphlet explaining the rides and limitations of the rides for disabled people, but he didn't take it. He said he already had one," Maha said. "We don't know if he had one."

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Thursday, July 14, 2011 1:48 PM

That sounds similar to CP's policy, but at CP you have to show your pass to the ride host before you get on. In light of this, I wonder if Darien Lake would change its policy so that a disabled person must be issued a new pass for each visit (though after reading that quote again, I see that it was described as a "pamphlet" and not a mandatory "pass" that grants access to the ride).

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Sunday, July 17, 2011 2:44 AM

RollrCoastrCrazy said:
work possible and possibly endanger others. I was at SFGAM yesterday and rode American Eagle, Whizzer, and Viper without a single person tugging on my lapbar at all, on Whizzer they didn't even bother touching the seatbelt. I of course immediately reported these events to the customer service desk but I don't really feel that anything will be done about it. The rideops in question looked


Whizzer belts have never been tugged as far as I remember. Come to think of it, I remember a time when Whizzer didn't have seatbelts - that was so nice! Was your lap bar locked on AEagle and Viper? If yes, then what's the problem? They are locked if they are down, otherwise they spring up.

Does anyone remember before the 1987 SFGAdventure/Lightnin' Loops death, when lap bars were rarely checked? It was mostly done visually. I'm not saying that it was ok (or NOT ok) it's just the way it was. I'm not arguing for or against anything, just shining a light on different perspectives :)

I've heard complaints from enthusiasts (or coaster fans, or fill in the blank) about Tig'ger at Indiana Beach NOT having restraints. It ran just fine for what, 35 years, without them!? Well, it has seat belts now.

Who said the worlds intelligence is constant, just spread out among us - but there has been a recent population boom? I mean, get on a ride, lock your bar, sit down, don't stand up, seems easy?! I understand it doesn't work that way anymore, but ahhhh... the beautiful trains on Kennywood Jack Rabbit :)

edit - does Disney still employ "push up on your restraint to make sure it's locked" technique? I thought that was a good option. Get them trains out, whoo!

Last edited by CoasterDemon, Sunday, July 17, 2011 2:48 AM
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