posted on July 13, 2011 12:34
(2:00pm) by Geoff Redick
Darien Lake's teenaged ride operators violated the park's own rules by allowing a double-amputee Iraqi war veteran to board "The Ride of Steel," which he ultimately fell off of, and died.
But despite that fact, no one is apparently at fault.
In a Wednesday-morning news conference announcing the results of a criminal investigation into Sgt. James Hackemer's death, Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha read directly from the Darien Lake Theme Park rule-book, regarding "The Ride of Steel" and who may ride it.
"For the restraint devices on this ride to fully and safely engage, guests must have two legs," Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha said this morning. "Mr. Hackemer did not have the physical attributes necessary to be properly restrained." (See excerpted image from Sheriff's Office news release below)
The 29-year-old Hackemer lost both of his legs while serving in the Iraq War. He was allowed to board "The Ride of Steel" last Friday, despite his obvious deficiency and the stated ride rules. Hackemer was later thrown from the ride when lap restraints failed to hold him in his seat.
Despite the rule violation, neither the operators nor the park itself will be charged with any criminal wrong-doing.
"There has to be some type of recklessness, or criminal negligence," Maha said. But in consulting with the District Attorney's office during the investigation, the Sheriff's Department found that neither of those conditions existed here. "And there was no intent there, at all," Maha added.
WBTA News reached out to District Attorney Lawrence Friedman late this morning for more on the conditions surrounding possible charges against the park. Friedman noted that the law says a person is criminally negligent only "when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk" that some criminal offense, such as a death, will occur.
"The risk must be of such degree," Friedman continues, "that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe." Investigators therefore determined that:
- either ride operators were unable to responsibly perceive a risk of death or injury for Mr. Hackemer; or,
- the risk was not substantial or unjustifiable.
"While there may be a case of civil liability, it's fair to say that in the majority of cases where a death occurs...there is no criminal liability," Friedman said.
Sheriff Maha says the Department of Labor is continuing its investigation, but they were able to report that "The Ride of Steel" is mechanically sound.
According to Sgt. Steve Mullen of the Sheriff's Office, it appears that Hackemer had ridden "The Ride of Steel" securely for the major portion of the ride. On the third hill (which is also third-highest), Hackemer was dislodged from his seat and became airborne. Mullen says it appears Hackemer came down just ahead of his seat, where the coaster train slammed into him and threw him away from the track. Mullen was unable to say whether Hackemer died instantly, but he did sustain serious blunt force trauma.
Darien Lake has not conducted any public conferences or interviews since the day of Sgt. Hackemer's death. The park only expresses its condolences to the family, and continues to support investigation.
Following are excerpts from this morning's news conference (video by Dan Fischer):
Below, an excerpt from the Sheriff's Office release, which explains the operator rule book for "The Ride of Steel":