I don't know about you, but the second death at an East Coast amusement park in as many weeks has successfully ended my "let's plan a family vacation to ride some rides" campaign. Sgt. James Thomas Hackemer lost his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, but it was a roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park in upstate New York that claimed the Army veteran's life over the weekend. That it happened just days after a 6-year-old boy died in an incident at Knoebels Amusement Park in Pennsylvania only compounds the tragedy.
Two people are dead. TWO! At the sort of place that's supposed to call to mind shrieks of laughter and screams of delight. My heart breaks for both families right now.
Even harder to fathom is two horrible incidents in a row, with no real explanations for the vacationing public. Darien Lake's Facebook page has a notice out that they're looking for guests who may have witnessed Hackemer's ride and fall from the 208-foot-tall ride, people who can shed light on what happened. Spokespeople from the park are sticking to the story that they're saddened by the incident but have no details on what happened or why. The park itself is open for business with only Ride of Steel, the attraction that claimed the veteran's life, closed.
It's not exactly the sort of non-answer Americans want to hear right now. The amusement park industry is one that thrives on families seeking an escape from the every day. But there's no escape when you're always on edge, wondering what will go wrong next.
It certainly gives credence to legislators who have long called for federal oversight over amusement parks and their various attractions. Although they're currently overseen by local and state authorities, there is nothing consumer protection groups like the Consumer Product Safety Commission can do to help Americans when it comes to complaints regarding fixed site amusement parks (not to be confused with traveling carnivals). More regulations may be tough for the industry to swallow, but we're talking about the safety of our kids here. The safer, the better, right?
Nothing will bring Sgt. Hackemer back to his family, but with an average of three ride-related fatalities ever year in America, each time something like this happens, it adds to the evidence that something needs to be done. Maybe this senseless tragedy will finally push us closer to a safe place to take our kids on vacation.
Do you feel safe going to amusement parks with your kids?
Image via kevin dooley/Flickr