Coaster accident injures exchange student

July 14, 2008 3:50:02 PM PDT
The StarJet roller coaster at Casino Pier on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights remained closed Monday after a terrible accident Sunday night. Police say 21 year old Stanislav Dragnev, a college student from Bulgaria working at the shore for the summer, climbed underneath the ride while it was in progress to retrieve a hat dropped by a child.

"It's a tragic accident. He was trying to get this young boy's hat and unfortunately went where he shouldn't have been and got hit," said pier spokeswoman Marylou Halvorsen.

Authorities say Dragnev stepped underneath the tracks in a restricted area and when he stood up it was between the rails and the bars, not knowing that the coaster was coming behind him.

The roller coaster cars slammed into Dragnev's head and shoulders after rocketing down a steep incline.

He remains at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in critical condition on life support. Pier officials say the Oregon-based company that recruited and hired Dragnev for his job here is trying to obtain emergency visas for his family so they can come to the U.S. to see him.

About 40 to 50 Bulgarian exchange students are working the rides at Casino Pier this summer. They were stone-faced as they arrived for work, worried about the co-worker they describe as friendly and outgoing.

Dregnev lived in a house with other exchange students just across from the boardwalk.

Ride Inspectors from the state are checking the coaster to confirm no malfunction contributed to the accident. Grief counselors who speak Bulgarian are set to meet with Stanislav Dragnev's co-workers.