Iraq War amputee killed in fall from Darien Lake coaster
Victim fell 208 feet from top of Ride of Steel
An Iraq War veteran who lost both legs and a hip to a roadside bomb south of Baghdad in March 2008 fell to his death late Friday afternoon from the 208-foot Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, the soldier's family confirmed.
James T. Hackemer, 29, a double amputee who spent three years of rehabilitation before his March 18 release from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was visiting Darien Lake for the first time since he was wounded, accompanied by his daughters, sisters and family.
"It's going to help a little bit that he was happy," Nancy Hackemer, the victim's mother, said late Friday from the family's Gowanda-area home. "We shouldn't have had him for these last three years and four months."
"After he was hit by the IED, he died once in the field and once on the operating table."
Mrs. Hackemer said her son, the youngest of six children that included two boys and four girls, was with his own daughters -- Addison, 3, and Kaelynn, 4 -- who live in Newport News, Va. James Hackemer and his daughters headed out earlier Friday to Darien Lake for the weekend with two of the veteran's sisters and their children, she said.
Mrs. Hackemer said she was unsure of the name of the ride her son was on but was told that he went onto the attraction with his nephew, Ashton, a sophomore at the University at Buffalo.
"He was assisted onto the ride," she said. "He was doing what he wanted to do."
Park officials said the incident occurred at about 5:30 p.m.
"An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster, and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed," the park said in a statement. "We are currently investigating the situation with our safety experts and local authorities."
Sources close to the park told The News that the victim was "thrown from the coaster" and "fell a great height."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the guest," park officials said.
Hackemer's mother said family members are planning a "Celebration of Life" for her son. She said the family in recent weeks had returned from Walter Reed, where Hackemer got "a new set of legs."
Hackemer, despite his challenges, had a love of life and stayed active after returning home this spring following the three-year road to rehabilitation. He and a neighbor powered through a daily three-mile bicycle ride. Hackemer used hand pedals to propel his bike.