Twenty-nine-year-old Army sergeant James Thomas Hackemer survived combat in Iraq, lost both of his legs to a roadside bomb, emerged from a 6-week coma, and endured years of painful rehabilitation only to lose his life back home in the United States … on an amusement park roller coaster ride.
Sgt. Hackemer was killed on the evening of Friday, July 8, after being ejected from the “Ride of Steel” roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort in upstate New York. He was on riding the 208-foot tall, 70-mph roller coaster with his nephew when the tragic accident occurred.
Investigators are trying to determine how Sgt.. Hackemer could have been thrown from the ride. The Army veteran lost all of his left leg and hip and most of his right one in 2008 and spent years in rehabilitation hospitals throughout the Northeast recovering from injuries that initially he was not expected to survive.
Authorities are trying to determine if the roller coaster was appropriate for Sgt. Hackemer to ride given his physical condition (Sgt. Hackemer was fitted with prosthetic legs), or if the roller coaster could have malfunctioned. According to the park’s website, the Ride of Steel will remain closed until authorities determine what caused the fatal accident.
The Ride of Steel has some safety restrictions for passengers of certain heights and body proportions, and the park provides test seat near the ride to help potential riders determine whether they may ride safely. Passengers are secured by a bar that locks over their lap. People without both legs are barred from at least two other roller coasters at the Darien Lake park, the Motorcoaster and the Predator, according to the park’s website.
Investigators from New York’s labor department, which has regulatory authority over amusement park rides, are trying to determine if Sgt. Hackemer should have been allowed onto the ride. According to Sgt. Hackemer’s sister Catie Marks, one of a dozen relatives who accompanied him on a family outing to the park that day, no park attendants questioned whether he could safely ride the roller coaster.
“Not one objection,” she told the Associated Press. “Not one question.”
According to the AP report, the Ride of Steel’s design has been scrutinized before. “In 2004, a 55-year-old man with cerebral palsy died when he fell out of a Superman Ride of Steel coaster at a Six Flags amusement park in Agawam, Mass. State officials ultimately blamed a ride operator for not checking the restraints. That ride has the same design as the one at Darien Lake.”