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State labor department issues violations against Darien Lake; Ride reopens

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The New York State Department of Labor has issued two violations against Darien Lake Theme Park for the fatal accident that killed an Iraqi war veteran.

29-year-old Army Sergeant James Hackemer of Gowanda died July 8th after falling out of the "Ride of Steel" roll coaster. Hackemer was a double amputee who lost his legs in Iraq.

The Department of Labor's investigation found that Sergeant Hackemer's death was the result of "operator error".

The Labor Departemnt said the "Ride of Steel" is mechanically sound and all safety devices work properly. But 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.

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.

The Department of Labor is authorized to inspect amusement parks and issue violations where appropriate. Based on their investigation, the Department of Labor issued two violations to the Park:

Operators were not properly trained on the safety and operations restrictions of the Ride of Steel.

Operators were unfamiliar with the safety requirements of the Ride of Steel On the day of the accident, the Department of Labor ordered the Park to stop operating the Ride of Steel until a full inspection of the ride was completed. Since then, the ride has remained closed.

Following orders from the Department of Labor:

All employees who operate the Ride of Steel have been retrained in safety procedures.

New, clearer signage has been posted in the Park that describes ride safety regulations.

Park management must now review all safety restrictions on every ride prior to the start of each ride operator's shift.

Since the Park complied with these orders, the Department of Labor approved the ride to reopen Friday.

Last week the Genesee County Sheriff's Department said no criminal charges would be filed against Darien Lake.

Darien Lake says based on recommendations from the State Department of Labor and the park's own internal reviews of the tragic accident, it will re-open the Ride of Steel, Friday at 5 p.m.

"The safety of both our guests and team members always has been, and remains, our top priority," said Darien Lake General Manager Christopher Thorpe. "We were all devastated by this tragedy and are committed to doing everything we can to prevent something like this from ever reoccurring. To this end, we have enhanced training programs, increased audits of safety procedures and enforcement, and made disability ridership information more accessible throughout the park."

Working with the DOL, internal, and other experts, Darien Lake is instituting the following changes:

Recertification - All Ride of Steel employees have been recertified including a training that includes both trainer and trainee sign-off of competency on ride protocol. The training also includes how to enforce all ride restrictions in a consistent, guest friendly manner. This recertification includes enhancements to the park's long-time, multi-part ride training program. Additionally, all ride operators throughout the park have been re-trained with special emphasis on these important aspects of their job.

Increased Audits - To augment its existing, daily ride operations audit program, the park has increased the frequency and type of audits that are conducted throughout the operating day. Audits will be random and unannounced and will include knowledge of ride restrictions as well as adherence to operational procedures. A dedicated auditor position has also been created to further increase the frequency of audits.

Rider Accessibility Guide Awareness - To supplement the ride restrictions posted at the accessible entrances, and to support the materials currently available at Guest Relations, Darien Lake has added additional Rider Accessibility Guide signage at every ride throughout the park. These signs include a box featuring the Guide and also instructions for guests with disabilities to present the Guide to the ride operator, assuring both the operator and guest that they are aware of the ride's restrictions. The Rider Accessibility Guide has also been added to the park's web site.