Lack of training led to fatal roller coaster fall, New York says

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 22, 2011 4:23 PM
Lack of training led to fatal roller coaster fall, New York says

By Neale Gulley

BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - State labor authorities said on Friday they found ride operators were not properly trained to observe safety rules at a western New York theme park where a double-amputee Iraq war veteran was thrown to his death earlier this month.

The "Ride of Steel" roller coaster was given the okay to reopen on Friday, two weeks after Army Sergeant James Hackemer, who lost both legs and a hip in combat in 2008, was ejected from the 208-foot-tall amusement ride.

The state Department of Labor found ride operators at the Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort were not properly trained on the safety requirements and operating restrictions of the "Ride of Steel," spokesman Leo Rosales said.

"The Park's safety and operational requirements, which were visibly posted at the entrance to the Ride of Steel, were not followed by the ride operators," the Labor Department said in a statement.

"These rules require that riders have both legs, because the safety devices restrain the legs, shins, and lap to hold the rider safely in the ride's car," it said.

Corrective action has been taken at the park, including clearer signs and mandatory retraining of ride operators, the spokesman said. Also, regular briefings on safety procedures now must be conducted before each shift, he said.

The state agency did not impose any penalties, he said.

Park operators also do not face any criminal charges, following a separate investigation by the Genesee County Sheriff's Department announced last week. The park violated its own policy in allowing Hackemer on the ride, but the violations were not criminal, the sheriff's department said.

According to authorities, signs reading "guests must have two legs" were posted at the "Ride of Steel."

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.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Jerry Norton)