State Labor Department Issues Violations to Darien Lake; Park Officials Respond

July 22, 2011 Updated Jul 22, 2011 at 6:38 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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July 22, 2011 Updated Jul 22, 2011 at 6:38 PM EDT

ALBANY, NY (07/22/2011)(readMedia release from the NYS Dept. of Labor)-- The New York State Department of Labor today issued two violations to Darien Lake Theme Park following a thorough investigation into the July 8 fatality of Army Sergeant James Hackemer while on the "Ride of Steel."

The incident has also led to independent investigations by local law enforcement.

The Department of Labor's investigation found that Sergeant Hackemer's death was the result of operator error. The Ride of Steel is mechanically sound and all safety devices work properly. 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. Sergeant Hackemer lost both his legs in combat while serving in Iraq.

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 today.

The Department of Labor reminds riders to follow basic safety guidelines on rides at amusement parks and traveling carnivals. These include:

• Listen to the ride operator's instructions

• Read and follow posted warnings and instructions

• Keep hands and feet inside the ride while it is moving

• Don't reach toward fences or barriers

• Secure loose clothing and long hair

• Don't drink and ride

• Don't stand or attempt to leave a ride until it comes to a complete stop

• Check restraining devices to make sure they are properly latched

• Avoid horseplay

• Never attempt to unlock or loosen a restraining device until instructed by the operator

More information about ride safety is available on the web site www.ridesafeny.com. The web site offers riders, parents, and children helpful tips on ride safety, along with a directory of amusement parks in New York State. The web site also makes it simple to e-mail the Department of Labor to report unsafe conditions.

Friday afternoon, Darien Lake issued a release in response to the Dept. of Labor report:

Darien Lake Theme Park Resort Set to Re-Open Ride of Steel

Operational and Communications Changes Approved and Implemented

Darien Center, NY (July 22, 2011 – 4:00 p.m. ET) Based on recommendations from the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) and the park’s own internal reviews of the tragic accident that occurred on July 8, Darien Lake Theme Park Resort will re-open the Ride of Steel Friday, July 22.

“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."

“We offer our continued condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant James Hackemer; who remain in our prayers. Our commitment to our guests is we will continue our sharp focus on safety, providing them with a secure and fun experience, while honoring the lessons we can all learn from the life of Sergeant Hackemer,” added Thorpe.

Since opening nearly fifty years ago in 1964, Darien Lake Theme Park Resort has entertained more than 35 million guests. The park invests its greatest amount of time and resources into safety. This incident was the first-ever ride-related fatality to occur at 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.

“Darien Lake wishes to express its appreciation to both local and state authorities who have diligently served our community by conducting a thorough and meticulous investigation of the tragic accident that occurred July 8 on Ride of Steel,” added Thorpe.

Due to misinformation ( the park claims ) were previously reported in the media, the park also clarified several points:

All of the operators exceeded the state’s age requirements for operating rides; they were all over 18 years of age.

Darien Lake did not continue to operate Ride of Steel after the incident. Per design and manufacturer’s specifications, Ride of Steel Standard Operating Procedure is one train is already climbing the lift as the other enters the station. In essence, one train replaces the other with only one train in the station at a time. Two trains cannot be in the station at one time.

Christopher Thorpe Biography

General Manager, Darien Lake Theme Park Resort

A Buffalo, New York native and family entertainment veteran, Chris began his tenure with Darien Lake Theme Park Resort as a promotions intern in 1994, later promoted to promotions manager during the property’s transition to Six Flags. In 2000, Thorpe left New York for a six-year period to work with Six Flags in other locales, first as marketing manager with Six Flags Over Georgia and later as marketing director of Six Flags New England, with signature success in growing the property’s attendance and revenue. He returned to his home, Darien Lake, as general manager in 2008.

Thorpe received his bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism from St. Bonaventure University. In 2010, Thorpe was a recipient of Buffalo’s prominent “Forty Under Forty” award.