Wounded vet turned away from Six Flags ride as park cites safety rules
By JENNIFER BRETT | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Published: May 22, 2018
ATLANTA (Tribune News Service) — A wounded veteran was dismayed to be turned away from a Six Flags Over Georgia ride the other day, but the park cites safety precautions.
"We apologize to Mr. Jones for any inconvenience; however, to ensure safety, guests with certain disabilities are restricted from riding certain rides and attractions," a statement from Six Flags said. "Our accessibility policy includes ride safety guidelines and the requirements of the federal American Disabilities Act."
Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Johnny "Joey" Jones is a Dalton native who enlisted after high school and worked as a bomb technician while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both of his legs. Today, he uses prosthetic limbs.
A lifelong fan of amusement parks, he says he's been able to enjoy attractions at Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and Sea World even after his injury.
"I do not try to ride a ride where your legs dangle," he said. "I've only gone on rides where I knew the safety equipment could function. If there is a safe way to ride it, I'm on it."
He and his son had boarded the Mindbender roller coaster at Six Flags when an attendant said he had to exit the ride.
"I got in, the lap thing came down. I was fixed in. Once they saw my legs they asked me to get off," Jones said. "(The attendant) said, 'you've got to have two real legs to ride.'"
That is, in fact, exactly what Six Flags' safety policy states.
"Each rider must maintain an upright seated position with their head against the headrest and back against the seat back during the duration of the ride and their arms, hands, legs, and feet inside the ride vehicle at all times. Guests must possess at least one (1) fully functioning arm and two (2) fully functional legs," the policy posted on the Six Flags site reads. It goes on to say that riders "must have upper body control, a strong grasp, and must be restrained by a lap bar and notes that "exceptionally large or tall people may not be able to ride."
The Mindbender is a fast-moving attraction where the riders go upside down at times, the park's description says. "Guests should be prepared to brace for strong front-to-back, top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top forces as well as mild side-to side forces," the safety guidelines say. "The Mindbender is very difficult to evacuate due to the high, steep, narrow catwalks."
In July 2011, a U.S. Army veteran who'd lost his legs while deployed in Iraq was killed after he was thrown from a roller coaster in upstate New York. The family of Sgt. James Hackemer settled for "a seven-figure amount," investigators having determined that "park workers didn't follow rules posted at the ride's entrance, which require that riders have both legs," The Associated Press reported.
Jones said he had not heard directly from Six Flags since posting messages about his experience on social media. The host of an inspirational podcast, "Blown Away with JJJ," he has served as a military analyst for Fox News and made numerous other media appearances. He's also appeared in some big-screen roles including a turn as a wounded soldier in "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
"I'm not trying to wage war against Six Flags," said Jones, who'd like the opportunity to meet with a park representative. "There are thousands and thousands of us who are in this situation because of our service to our country. We're just trying to reclaim a sense of normalcy."
He also stressed that he isn't disparaging the Six Flags attendant who turned him away, noting the employee was following guidelines. His experience at other parks has been pleasant, with employees going out of their way to accommodate him.
"If I go to Disney they'll assign someone to walk with me to the front of the line," he said. "They go from the angle of, how can we get this guy on the ride? "Within two seconds of walking into Universal someone walked up and said, 'Would you like to sign up for special services?'"
At other area locations, including the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola, "they roll out sort of a red carpet."
"At Six Flags I'm a burden," Jones said. "At the other places it's an opportunity to shine."
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