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Teacher killed by Cedar Point roller coaster: ‘He’d just gotten a dream job’

The Raptor at Cedar Point in 2009. (Jeremy Thompson/  <a href="">via Flickr</a> )

For James A. Young, a 45-year-old fifth-grade teacher from East Canton, Ohio, the end of the summer was the calm before the storm. And at the end of every summer, he would take the time to visit one of his favorite getaways: Cedar Point, the acclaimed amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie just two hours from his home.

“That was one of his favorite places to go,” Young’s mother, Brenda Young, told The Washington Post. “He went there every summer with his friends. It was a fun time for him. Just a little break before school started in a couple weeks.”

But Thursday, Young’s annual visit to Cedar Point turned tragic.

The teacher — who had just landed his dream job as a guidance counselor at a local high school — was struck and killed by a roller coaster while searching in a restricted area for this cellphone.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful person,” his mother said.

While not Cedar Point’s most famous ride — that might be Millennium Force — the Raptor, when it opened in 1994, was reportedly the world’s longest, tallest inverted roller coaster. Able to reach speeds of about 57 m.p.h. and featuring something called a “cobra roll,” it was also the fastest.

“In the 21 years that I have been associated with Cedar Fair, this next generation coaster, named Raptor, is the only project we’ve ever undertaken which can match the Magnum for sheer excitement,” Richard L. Kinzel, the president and chief executive officer of the company that operates Cedar Point, said in 1993. “Passengers seated four-across in suspended chair lift-like vehicles will travel a 3,790-foot-long inverted steel track that will have six upside down elements, including several vertical loops and barrel rolls, all beginning with a 137-foot tall lift hill.”

While that sounds incredibly thrilling — and possibly dangerous — Young’s death seems to have been totally unrelated to the Raptor’s design. His mother said his wallet and phone fell out of his pocket during the ride. He saw where they fell and, “in a thoughtless moment,” Brenda Young said, tried to retrieve them after he got off.

“He just hopped over the fence and thought he’d grab it,” Brenda Young said. “I know he’d never in a million years thought that something like that would have happened.”

The park appeared to confirm this narrative.

“At 5 pm, a guest entered a restricted, fenced area of Raptor and was struck by the ride,” Cedar Point tweeted. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”

At a press conference filmed by the Sandusky Register, police told a similar story.

“There’s really not a whole lot of questions you can ask me, because there’s really not a whole lot to say,” Assistant Chief Phil Frost said.

After Young met his death, the Raptor was closed, but the park remained open. Frost also said that no one else was injured, and that Young was not with NBA star and Ohio native LeBron James, who was also visiting the park on Thursday.

Though it opened more than two decades ago, the Raptor has witnessed only a few reported mishaps. A teenager felt faint on the ride in 2009 and went to the hospital; earlier this year, a man suffered a leg injury while trying to “squeeze through an already closing safety gate,” according to Cedar Point.

The man, Theron Dannemiller, disputed this version of events.

“I wasn’t trying to squeeze through anything. That’s completely untrue,” Dannemiller, a former amusement park employee, said. “I’m very familiar with Cedar Point’s loading and unloading process. I rode every coaster a thousand times. … I know how these things work.” He blamed the incident on “employee error.”

Brenda Young said her son, who lived around the block from her, was looking forward to his first year as a guidance counselor.

“He was just ecstatic about school starting and this opportunity to get his feet wet,” she said. “He was a really special person … I’m not sure how we’ll go on without him.”

The Raptor: the roller coaster that killed James A. Young.