Sheriff: Coaster Death Not Caused By Ride Malfunction

9:51 PM, Jul 12, 2011   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - Investigators have ruled out the possibility that mechanical issues on a Darien Lake rollercoaster caused a disabled army veteran to fall to his death last week.

That is according to Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha, who plans to release all of his department's findings during a Wednesday morning press conference. Maha, who said the investigation has concluded, told 2 On Your Side that he was unable to elaborate on what actually caused the death, adding only that it was "nothing earth-shattering."

Army Sergeant James Hackemer, 29, of Gowanda, was killed when he fell from the "Ride of Steel" coaster. Hackemer lost both of his legs in battle in Iraq in 2008, and his family said he was not wearing his prosthetics when he boarded the ride.

The accident was the second on that same exact ride in 12 years at a theme park thousands of local families visit each year. With thousands more set to visit in the coming weeks, we wanted to take a closer look at Darien Lake's safety record for not only the "Ride of Steel" but every other ride there.

The State Department of Labor inspects all of the rides annually. When we asked the department for that information, including whether the park had any violations, it refused to release it us even though the state's own open government committee says those records are public information.

2 On Your Side spoke to Robert Freeman, who is Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, which is a part of the New York Department of State.

REPORTER: If that's the case, can they possibly justify not releasing that information right now?

FREEMAN: In my opinion, no... The issue in this instance, as I understand the situation, involves safety. And certainly, the public should have the right to know whether something like a roller coaster is as safe as it should be, that it's met whatever the standards might be required by the Department of Labor, or any other government agency.

State Senator Mark Grisanti sits on the senate committee that oversees the state agency that inspects the rides.

REPORTER: Should the Department of Labor release those records?

GRISANTI: People should be entitled to that information. To me, I think that information should be put on a website if people want to come to a park, whether it's in our area or anywhere in New York State, and they want to know what the track record is, let's say for safety, or for what goes on at the park, people should have that access to do that.

Nothing in our investigation has suggested that any of the rides at Darien Lake are unsafe. We merely want access to the inspection records or results to see if there were any violations. For now, we've submitted a Freedom of Information request to the state. Our legal department is now involved as well. And we'll keep pushing to get you that information.

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