by Danny Miller
Earlier this year I wrote a blog talking about the incident at Darien Lake last season where a war veteran was killed after being thrown out of a ride vehicle on the Ride Of Steel coaster at the park. This season, there has already been a few incidents regarding the same situation, however these guests were denied entry to the rides. Our own Mike Strobel has provided us with a great read from mainly a guests perspective, so as a ride operator myself, I am going to attempt to explain such situations from an operator’s point of view.
Last season at Darien Lake, it was found that the operators were at fault for allowing the man, Sgt. James Hackemer, who had one leg completely amputated, and the other cut off at the knee, to ride. Most ride admission policies for roller coasters with lap bars like Ride Of Steel require that guests have at least three functioning extremities, which Hackemer did not. Also in this case, Hackemer’s center of gravity was significantly different than that of other guests, shifting it to the upper portion of his body, making it easy for him to fall out of the train with the lap bar not pinning him in properly.
This past June, a man in Texas was denied entry on to the New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas despite having been to the park several times in his life and never being denied entry. Mr. Michael Green lost both hands in a house fire when he was young, but has lived quite normally and is able to drive, type, and cook among other things. The park claims their ride admission policies are constantly reviewed and changed to meet safety requirements while still accommodating most, if not all guests. Six Flags however, told Green he would not be able to ride any rides, presumably because he would be unable to hold on to the restraints.
Disability Rights Texas has stated that safety can be a valid reason for denying a guest entry onto a ride, however, this is case that upon further examination may find that Six Flags is going a tad too far here in my opinion. Most, if not all parks I have been to, require that riders have three functioning extremities, which are defined as arms below the elbow or legs below the knee so that riders can brace the restraint or the seat. Green clearly would be able to brace either the seat with his two functioning legs, or any shoulder harnesses with his arms, which still function with the exception of hands. Also, Green’s center of gravity would not be drastically affected by the absence of hands. I don’t believe the park is trying to discriminate as Green claims, but I think it is more a matter of interpreting the rules differently and this is probably a case where the park isn’t quite right.
In another incident just this week, a worker told Mr. Torrence Bellamy that he could not ride Goliath at Six Flags Over Georgia because he had a prosthetic leg. Bellamy says that the operator informed him of this as he was sitting in the front seat about to ride after waiting more than an hour, and also said that the worker was very insensitive. He also claims that just last season he visited the park and rode every roller coaster including Goliath without issues. The park has stated that in May, some ride admission policies were changed, and that prosthetic legs were no longer allowed on certain rides, including Goliath, and that riders must have both legs and feet to ride. Much like the Texas case, the park has also said that these policies are customized for each ride and also need to adhere to Federal American Disabilities Act guidelines.
This case to me seems fairly similar to the Darien Lake case. Some parks require that prosthetic limbs be taken off before riding because they may be considered loose articles if they are not secured. This is likely due to the recent incident at the Dragon Challenge coaster at Universal Orlando, where a man’s prosthetic leg fell off during the ride, striking a rider on the other train. Because of this policy, this would require the removal of Bellamy’s leg, which in turn may leave the operator with the decision as to whether or not Bellamy’s center of gravity is still in an acceptable position, and it would certainly violate to new rule of riders needing both legs.
In this case, it is certainly a difficult decision, however I do not quite understand that part that states riders must have feet, as riders feet are typically not in contact with the ground on this ride, and as long as the rider has at least one leg, they should be able to brace the seat with their knee. While the park may be best siding with safety on this one, it seems that park employee could have at the very least been a bit more tactful in their approach.
The last incident we will talk about is one that happened in 2010 and has now spurred a lawsuit. Mr. Angel Castelan and Mr. Martin Huezo are suing Universal Studios Hollywood for being denied entrance to the Revenge Of The Mummy roller coaster, a ride very similar to the Orlando ride of the same name. Castelan had both forearms amputated after a childhood electrical incident, while Huezo lost both legs in a car accident. They claim that they have been long time fans of the park and have ridden the ride several times in previous years, however the park says that recent changes to ride admission policies now require riders to have at least one hand and one leg in order to ride.
Again, most parks require three functioning extremities and a normal center of gravity in order to ride attractions such as these. In Castelan’s case, if both arms stop at the elbow joint, then he would not have three functioning limbs because he would not be able to bend an arm in order to brace a restraint, which would be an acceptable reason to deny him entry even if his center of gravity is in a reasonable position. For Huezo, the absence of significant portions of both legs would be very similar to the Darien Lake case, where his center of gravity would be shifted upwards significantly, which would not allow the lap bar to pin him in properly, risking the safety of him as well as others on the ride. Regardless of whether they were allowed to ride in previous years, if this is what their current policy states, it would seem that the park may be in the right in this particular case.
While all of these situations are very different and each has different factors to take into consideration, they all come back to rider safety. The Darien Lake incident has caught the attention of parks around the country and some parks have seemed to revise their policies in order to put less responsibility on the operators, and create more black and white guidelines that let the operators operate rather than make possible life-changing decisions. Whether or not they are reasonable or too much is a matter of personal opinion, but the bottom line is that the parks are siding with safety first, guest happiness second, which would make sense, because if you are unsafe on a ride, I doubt you would be happy. What do you think?