BUFFALO, NY - If you were to grade a public data base on safety inspections for rides at amusement parks in New York State, you might give it an "incomplete."
As parks open for the season, Two On Your Side found that the data base, which came about largely as the result of a Channel 2 investigation following a 2011 rollercoaster tragedy, contains some gaps.
Two summers ago, Iraq War veteran James Hackemer was thrown to his death from the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake. The ride guidelines prohibited passengers with missing limbs from boarding, and Hackemer was a double amputee missing both legs.
Even though his death was not the result of a ride malfunction, WGRZ-TV requested the safety inspection reports from the State Department of Labor on not only the Ride of Steel, but also other rides at Darien Lake.
When the Labor Department initially refused to disclose them, (it later did) we brought it to the attention of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who shortly thereafter instructed the department to create a public database containing information on recent ride safety inspections.
However, while there are current reports listed for rides at Darien Lake and Fantasy Island (which shows all their rides have passed inspection) we noticed that in the cases of several other popular amusement parks now operating for the season, the only thing listed is that: "there are currently no inspection records available".
These include Sea Breeze Park in the Rochester suburb of Irondequoit, and Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George. (There is currently information for rides at the water park portion of Great Escape)
It was not pleasing news, to two state lawmakers who pushed for the creation of the database as well.
"It's unacceptable," said NYS Senator Mark Grisanti (R-60th District). "You have schools, large church groups, boy scouts...all of whom take kids and who want to make sure they are protected and the rides are safe."
The State Labor Department notes that no ride, which fails inspection, is allowed to operate unless and until all concerns are addressed and all needed repairs are made.
NYS State Senator Pat Gallivan (R-59th District) also pushed for the release of ride safety records, although he notes that while the Labor Department was under the Governor's directive to create the database, no law was ever passed requiring them to do it.
"We've tried. It has passed the Senate, and is sitting in the Labor committee in the Assembly right now," Gallivan told Two On Your Side.
Whether people actually use the data or not, Gallivan says it should all be there for review if they want to.
"If they want to know that things are properly inspected and safe, this information should be available to them," he said.
Despite it being Memorial Day, a Labor Department spokesperson returned a phone call from Channel 2 News, but initially indicated that because it was a holiday, it might take some time to determine why some of the reporting data missing. Late in the day, he e-mailed that in the specific case of Sea Breeze, the delay in posting "is just administrative and should be online like the others soon".
He also cautioned that when it comes to data on temporary amusement park rides, such as those set up at carnivals and county fairs, interested parties need to be patient, because the rides are not inspected until they are assembled and therefore data on them cannot be produced until such inspections take place.
Click on the video player to watch our report from 2 on Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Scott May. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2