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Coaster riders question safety steps

Woman says she lost grip on man who fell to death

Eyewitnesses to the roller-coaster accident that claimed the life of a Connecticut man last Saturday say that Six Flags New England employees did not check to see whether Stanley Mordarsky's lap restraint and seat belt were secure before the Superman Ride of Steel took off from the loading dock.

One eyewitness said that after Mordarsky initially popped out of his seat, she grabbed the back of his pants and held on. But when the ride hit a dizzying curve, Faith Thomas of Raymond, N.H., said, she lost her grip. Mordarsky catapulted out of the seat sideways, smashed into the rail, and spun to the ground to his death.

"The G-force was just too much," said Thomas, 39, who wept yesterday as she recalled how Mordarsky was yanked out of her hands. "If the attendants had strapped him in right and pushed the bar down, he would still be here."

Another eyewitness, the Rev. Hank Waltmire, said employees of the amusement park also skipped the required check on his 10-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, who was sitting three seats behind Mordarsky.

Waltmire said that after Mordarsky was flung from the car, Six Flags employees were slow to respond as he lay on the ground beside a chain-link fence.

"I'm yelling, `Call 911,' but nobody's doing anything," said Waltmire, 38, pastor at the Crossroads Community Cathedral in East Hartford, Conn.

Before the ride began, Thomas added, attendants let Mordarsky, who had cerebral palsy, ride his electric scooter up a ramp near the ride and then helped him board it.

Thomas's account differs from statements of managers of the Agawam park, who have asserted that they never permit visitors with a disability on that ride unless they can get on and off it by themselves.

Mary Ann Stebbins-Burns, a Six Flags New England spokeswoman, said all operators of the Superman Ride of Steel go through rigorous training.

"They're trained to check the seat belt and lap-bar restraint of every guest," Stebbins-Burns said yesterday. She said she is not aware of any delay in getting aid to Mordarsky, who died of multiple trauma. "The paramedics were there within approximately three minutes," Stebbins-Burns said.

An engineer who acted as a consultant to lawyers in a suit in New York State involving a 1999 accident on another Superman Ride of Steel coaster said that if a rider has a wide girth and short legs, the bar can lock in above the belly.

When the coaster bucks and plunges over a steep hump, the force can suck the rider above the restraint and fling him out of the car, said John Serth Jr., the engineering consultant in the case of Michael Dwaileebe, who won a $4 million jury award after he was injured in a similar accident at the Six Flags near Buffalo in 1999.

"It's the potbelly that does it," Serth said. At 5-feet-2, Mordarsky weighed about 230 pounds and had a potbelly.

Bush-Stebbins said Six Flags has closed down another Superman Ride of Steel roller coaster at its park in Largo, Md., and the one near Buffalo will not open when that park does this weekend, pending the outcome of the Massachusetts investigation.

Thomas and Waltmire are among 64 witnesses who gave statements to Agawam police after the accident, according to Lieutenant Steven Draghetti, who is leading an investigation into Mordarsky's death. Draghetti said he could not predict when his final report will be completed.

Results of an investigation by the Division of Inspections of the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees amusement park rides, could be released today, spokeswoman Katie Ford said.

As part of that probe, the state medical examiner was performing an autopsy on Mordarsky. The state released Mordarsky's body for a wake last night. He is scheduled to be buried today.

Connie Paige can be reached at cpaige@globe.com

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