'Ride of Steel' operators did not understand safety instructions, says state report
The ride operators who allowed Sgt. James Hackemer to board the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake Theme Park on July 8 did not comprehend the instructions they were given regarding minimum ride requirements, according to a NYS Department of Labor Report.
The report was obtained by Buffalo TV station WIVB through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The report (PDF) also says that Hackemer went to the guest services booth to inquire about handicap access to rides and was given instructions on how to use exit ramps to access the rides. The report indicates that no one at guest services advised him not to board any rides, but he was offered a brochure listing physical requirements for all of the park's rides. Hackemer reportedly refused the brochure saying he already had a copy.
At 4:30 p.m., Hackemer -- who had lost his left leg and hip and part of his right leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq -- along with his nephew, entered the Ride of Steel boarding area through the exit ramp and stopped at the gate adjacent to the unload platform.
The unload attendent notified the ride operator that a disabled guest needed to board the ride.
Hackemer and his nephew, who assisted the war vet, were then allowed to board the ride in car 11.
The report indicates neither operator made any attempt to prevent Hackemer from boarding the ride.
According to witnesses, shortly after cresting the third hill, Hackemer was ejected from his seat.
The report states that the restraint system of the ride is specifically designed to lock the passenger's shins in place to help ensure a rider cannot fall out or be ejected.
"After exhaustive review of all the documentation and interviews, it appears that the ride operator and ride attendent training materials met the requirements of the manufacturer," reads the report. "However, issues concerning the employees' comprehension of the training material and their ability to retain the associated requirements of their positions, specifically in reference to rider restrictions, became apparent."
At a press conference July 22, General Manager Christopher Thorpe would not answer questions about the ride operators, including their immigration status. Reportedly, Darien Lake annually employs about 300 students who are in the United States on J-1 visas.
It's unknown if the ride operators were exchange students or residents of Western New York.
The DOL report notes that upon the recommendation of inspectors, Darien Lake's management has instituted a new training program, created new training materials and instituted an audit program to ensure ride operators understand the safety restrictions of Darien's rides.