Amputee thrown from roller coaster dies
Sunday, July 10, 2011
DARIEN, N.Y. -- 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 an outing with family and friends. 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.
People without both legs are barred from at least two other coasters at the park, the Motocoaster and the Predator.
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.
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.
"We are all brokenhearted by this tragic accident and will continue our support of both the family and the investigation," the amusement park's general manager, Chris Thorpe, said in a statement.
A Labor Department spokesman confirmed that the agency is investigating, but said it wouldn't be releasing additional information yet on the circumstances of the accident.
The park's website describes the Ride of Steel as one of the tallest coasters east of the Mississippi River, climbing more than 200 feet and reaching speeds in excess of 70 mph.
The roller coaster and surrounding area were closed after the death. Other areas of the park remained open, and patrons arrived again on Saturday morning.