BATAVIA, N.Y. - A double-amputee Iraq War veteran who was hurled off a towering roller coaster to his death never should have been allowed on the ride, but park operators will face no criminal charges despite violating park policy, authorities said yesterday.
Signs at the Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort clearly state riders “must have two legs,’’ said Sheriff Gary Maha of Genesee County, whose office interviewed witnesses and park employees during an investigation that found no recklessness, malicious intent, or other criminal wrongdoing.
Sergeant James Hackemer, 29, who had lost both legs to a roadside bomb, died Friday when the force of the coaster lifted him out of his seat and its lap bar and seat belt restraints on the last and second-highest of three hills on the coaster.
The veteran struck the front of the eight-car train and fell about 150 feet.
“He didn’t have the physical attributes to hold him in,’’ Maha said in announcing the results of the investigation.
The ride operators, who were not identified, clearly knew Hackemer did not have legs but offered no explanation for why they let him on the coaster, which reaches speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour and drops riders more than 200 feet on the first hill.
“Darien Lake violated their own policies and procedures by letting him get on the ride,’’ Maha said.
A park spokeswoman would not comment on the employment status of the workers or about their work history.
When Hackemer got to the park with about a dozen family members, including his 3- and 4-year-old daughters, he stopped at guest services to ask about procedures for disabled visitors.
He was told to enter rides through the exit but he declined a pamphlet detailing the physical requirements for specific rides, telling staff he already had one, investigators said.
He then headed for the Ride of Steel, a childhood favorite. His college-age nephew, Ashton Luffred, lifted his uncle from his wheelchair and placed him in the front seat of the car before taking the seat next to him.
At the ride’s entrance and exit, white wooden signs list the restrictions and rules.
“For the restraint devices on this ride to fully and safely engage, guests must have two legs and be within a certain range of size and physical dimension,’’ the signs read in part, according to the sheriff. “In addition, guests must have sufficient body strength and the complete use of at least one arm and hand to hold on to the grab bar.’’
A promotional photograph taken automatically shows Luffred looking straight ahead in the moments after the accident, his face without expression and his hands on the safety bar in front of him.