Double Amputee and Iraq War Veteran Dies After Being Ejected From a Roller Coaster in NY
Sgt. James Hackemer lost both his legs in the Iraq War.
July 9, 2011 — -- U.S. Army Sgt. James Hackemer, an Iraq War veteran and double amputee, died in a tragic roller coaster accident at Darien Lake Theme Park in upstate New York, according to ABC News affiliate WKBW-TV in Buffalo.
At approximately 5:30 p.m. Friday, Hackemer was ejected from the park's "Ride of Steel" as it was operating. Hackemer was in the very front of the ride, according to Genesee County Sheriff Sgt. Greg Walker. The restraints on the roller coaster are a lap bar and seat belt.
Hackemer was reportedly at the park with his children and sister. His children were not with him on the ride at the time of the accident, but a relative said he was accompanied by a college-age nephew.
"He was determined to ride every roller coaster," his sister, Jody Hackemer, told The Associated Press. "That minute he was on that ride, he probably felt the happiest and most normal he's felt in three and a half years."
Catie Marks, another of Hackemer's sisters, told the AP that the nephew, Ashton Luffred, told her that park attendants did not challenge the disabled veteran's desire to ride the coaster.
"Not one objection," Marks told the AP. "Not one question."
Hackemer had lost both his legs in combat, leaving him a double amputee.
Hackemer was three months into his second Iraq tour in March 2008 when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. The attack inflicted several injuries on him, including the loss of both legs, a tremendous blood loss which led to brain injury and two strokes.
He was in a coma for six weeks and went through a long recovery period during which he had to relearn how to eat, speak and write, according to a Department of Veteran Affairs website.
"James' advice to anyone going through a similar situation ... 'Hang on. You can make it. It can be hard, but you get out of it what you put in,'" the website reads.
"What gives us peace right now with this whole situation is we've had James for the last three and a half years when we were told he wouldn't survive, we were told he would never wake up, he would be a vegetable," Jody Hackemer told the AP. "And he overcame that and we overcame it as a family. So I look on the last three and a half years as a blessing."
According to Walker, the "Ride of Steel" was moving at 50 mph when Hackemer fell off of it. Walker said he did not believe a mechanical issue caused the accident, according to WKBW.
A spokesperson for Darien Lake Theme Park issued a statement to WKBW Friday evening with first word of the accident:
"An incident occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Ride of Steel at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort. An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster, and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed. We are currently investigating the situation with our safety experts and local authorities. Meanwhile, the attraction and surrounding area is closed pending the investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the guest."
ABC News affiliate WKBW-TV in Buffalo and The Associated Press contributed to this report.