No charges to be filed in New York roller coaster death

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 13, 2011 6:23 PM

By Neale Gulley

BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - No criminal charges will be filed against operators of a western New York roller coaster where a double-amputee veteran was thrown to his death last week, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort violated its own policy in allowing Army Sgt. James Hackemer on the ride, but the violations were not criminal, the Genesee County Sheriff's Department said.

Investigators said Hackemer, who lost both his legs and a hip while serving in Iraq in 2008 and was not wearing prosthetic limbs when he fell, should not have been allowed on the 208-foot-tall ride that reaches speeds as fast as 70 mph.

The sheriff department's investigation concluded that Hackemer did not have the physical attributes necessary to be properly restrained on the ride.

"The rules say you have to have two legs to ride. They didn't stop him or question him. They violated their own policy," Sheriff Gary Maha said in a statement.

"Basically he didn't have the body mass to keep him in his seat," Maha said.

According to Maha, park policy is spelled out on signs at the entrance and exit of the "Ride of Steel" saying: "For the restraint devices on this ride to fully and safely engage, guests must have two legs and be within a certain range of size and physical dimension."

Maha said operators at the park, about 30 miles east of Buffalo, did not stop Hackemer from getting on the ride, as a family member helped him out of his wheelchair.

However he said there was no reckless behavior or criminal negligence on the part of the attendants.

"There is no criminal liability associated with this incident," he said, calling Hackemer's death an "unfortunate accident."

In the attack in Iraq, Hackemer suffered two strokes, blood loss and brain damage and spent three years in rehabilitation, relearning how to eat and speak. He was released in March and lived in Gowanda, New York.

The state Department of Labor also is investigating the incident.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Johnston)