Army amputee thrown from New York roller coaster, dies
DARIEN, N.Y. (AP) – A U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs in Iraq and had been trying to rebuild his life was killed after he was thrown from a roller coaster at an upstate New York amusement park.
Teams of inspectors on Saturday were examining the Ride of Steel coaster at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, about 30 miles east of Buffalo.
Sgt. James Thomas Hackemer, 29, was ejected from the 208-foot-tall ride early Friday evening after climbing aboard during a family outing. Authorities and a park spokeswoman declined to say at what point in the ride the accident occurred.
The wounded veteran was missing all of his left leg and most of his right one, as well as part of a hip, and had only recently returned for good to his parents’ home in Gowanda following years in and out of rehabilitation at hospitals around the northeast U.S.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether attendants at the theme park had given any thought to barring Hackemer from the ride because of his missing limbs.
Hackemer was accompanied by a dozen family members, including one of his sisters, Jody Hackemer.
“He was determined to ride every roller coaster,” she said. “That minute he was on that ride, he probably felt the happiest and most normal he’s felt in three and a half years.”
Hackemer rode the coaster with a college-age nephew, Ashton Luffred. Family members who gathered at the Hackemers’ home Saturday said the young man was too shaken to speak with a reporter.
But Catie Marks, another of Hackemer’s sisters, said Luffred told her that park attendants did not challenge the disabled veteran’s desire to ride the coaster.
“Not one objection,” she said. “Not one question.”
Rules posted on the resort’s website for the Ride of Steel say that guests must be 54 inches or taller, but add that people with “certain body proportions” may not be able to ride. The website also suggests that guests try using a test seat at the coaster’s station house.
Passengers are held in by a bar that sits across their legs.
Theme park officials declined to answer questions about the accident on Saturday, citing the ongoing investigation. Both the state’s labor department, which has regulatory authority over amusement park rides, and investigators from the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department were on the scene.