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July 9, 2011 - 12:12am

Iraq vet, double amputee, dies after being ejected from ride at Darien Lake Theme Park

posted by WBTA News in accident, Darien, darien lake theme park.

The victim of a tragic roller coaster accident at Darien Lake Theme Park this afternoon was 29-year-old James Hackemer, of Gowanda. He is a veteran of the Iraq War and a double-amputee. One of his legs was removed at the hip, and other below just above the knee.

The Ride of Steel is a lap-harness-only roller coaster. Its restraint system includes a yellow lap bar that covers approximately hip-to-hip, and a lap-only seat belt. There are no other bodily restraints built into the ride. Hackemer was not wearing prosthetic legs this afternoon.

At a news conference this evening, Genesee County Sheriff's Sergeant Greg Walker confirmed that Hackemer was riding in the front seat of the front car on The Ride of Steel at the time of the incident. He was sitting next to a family member. Sgt. Walker estimated the roller coaster was traveling about 50 mph. He could not say how far Hackemer had fallen.

Sheriff's investigations will continue tomorrow. Darien Lake officials and the NYS Department of Labor are also looking into the matter. No charges have been filed.

Park officials declined comment this evening, other than to say that the theme park will remain open on its normal schedule tomorrow. The Ride of Steel will remain closed. A message to the public has been posted on the Darien Lake website.

PHOTO: Genesee County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Mullen, left, and Sgt. Greg Walker. Photo by Geoff Redick of WBTA.

CORRECTION (1:04 a.m.): Victim's name updated to reflect proper spelling.

Jacob Bell
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I bet all you people who sat there and called this hero an idiot must feel pretty stupid now. Yeah what an idiot that hero is for tryi g to enjoy a day out after losing half his body for this country. You people need to be ashamed of yourself for the stuff you said. Keep jumpin to conclutions with name calling.
Kim Grant
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Who called him an idiot Jacob? Please tell us.
Steve Ognibene
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A moment of silence and prayers to the family of Sargent James Hackemer who lost his life at Darien Lake last night. R.I.P.
Kyle Couchman
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I think perhaps you should be ashamed as well Jacob using this Hero's death as a soapbox to criticize others for excercising their 1st amendment rights to free speach. To take generalized comments about the idiocy of some of the park goers (and we all know there are some real idiots that go to this park) and make it seem like they purposely aimed them at this vet with malice is just as wrong if not even more abhorrent and an insult. Just remember buddy when you point your finger at someone you have 3 pointing back at yourself.
Kyle Couchman
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Nope... Just doublechecked to be sure and the only people casting allusions that the rider in this tragic acciddent was an idiot were the people criticizing others for talking about the idiots at the park. Carol and Richard both assumed by not reading the context of the comments that everyone was referring to the victim. I guess people see what they want to see, regardless of the facts, pretty sad if you ask me. Well James thank you for your service and my prayers and condolences to his family. In a way I'm glad James was fighting to live and enjoy life after sacrificing so much of himself for our freedoms Country and continued lifestyle as imperfect as they are.
Jerry Buckman
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The story isn't about SGT Hackemer's status as a hero. It's about why was James Hackemer, a legless man, allowed to ride that ride. I rode that ride and believe legs are very important to staying in it.
Lisa Falkowski
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Jerry, I agree. I don't feel it was probably ever considered - amputees riding certain rides and the impact the loss of those limbs would have on keeping the rider in the car. It won't surprise me at all to see that was a huge factor in this very sad accident. I do believe it was a true accident - with no one to blame. Hopefully, others will benefit from this knowledge from here on out. Thoughts and prayers go out to this family. Bless this man for his sacrifice as a serviceman, and extreme sadness for his loss of life in this freak accident.
Tim Howe
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Cory Hawley
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Jacob, sorry but you're out of control. No one said he was an idiot. Yet you are exercising your freedom of speech, which this man fought for, to accuse people on here who didn't even say anything. These imaginery people you assume said this are not idiots. You are.
Cory Hawley
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Jerry, I agree. As much as he may have wanted to ride the coaster, whoever allowed him to do so should be looked at. I'll admit, it'd be a hard call to make, seeing a man like this want to do something and tell him he can't. But I have been on this ride, and I believe he should not have been allowed on for safety. You literally come out of your seat when you make the first drop and there's not a lot holding you down.
Jacob Bell
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Take a couple seconds to go look back at the previous story comment before you try and argue. I can recall two in a row where the man was called an idiot. Never said you all did i was directing that comment too the ones who did. And soapbox? Im not preachig anything just pointing out that people called this man an idiot and passed judgement before they knew the story.
C. M. Barons
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Without resorting to words such as 'idiot,' it is apparent that an error in judgment and (likely) inadequate training/guidance resulted in a tragic accident. Riders and management, alike, trust in the integrity of construction, safety features and operation of the equipment. Despite the extent of the venue's ability to control safe-operation, riders must participate in a safe manner- and be capable of participating in a safe manner. Heart-condition, height and age are posted limitations, one would assume that operators are trained to recognize other safety concerns that might preclude ridership. One would also assume that operators are trained to deal with unwarranted enthusiasm when safety is in question. Without pretending to territory reserved for the legal system, liability in this case seems split (however lopsidedly) between James Hackemer (personal responsibility) and the operator(s) who allowed Hackemer on the ride. If no guidance exists pertinent to safely boarding amputees onto 'The Ride of Steel.' then management shares culpability.
Kim Grant
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I think your recollection is wrong Jacob. Maybe you need to go reread the posts in question yourself.
Kyle Couchman
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Been to previous story Jacob and your seeing things that just arent there, do I have to cut and paste every comment there just to prove it. Its obvious you used this moment to create drama just as Richard and Caroline did in the previous story. CM I guess sometimes there is a margin of error and perhaps they thought it would be safe enough for him to ride. Its hard to guage exactly to what extent a loss can keep you from being able to stay in the car. I am willing to bet however that additional restraints will be in the future of this ride as we now know it has a drawback and in this day and age of handicapped accessibility it will require something.
Amy Platten
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Thoughts and prayers go out to the family of James Hackemer. What a tragedy.
Lorie Longhany
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I'm detached from the argument because all I can think about is this young man, surviving two amputated limbs while fighting for our country, out for a day of entertainment at a theme park only to lose his life in a freak accident. My heart breaks for his family and friends. This is beyond tragic. ...
Nancy Clark
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I feel badly for this man's family - but I heard through the grapevine that he was told no repeatably about riding this coaster and would not take no for a answer. Went so far as a supervisor being called and telling him NO and he still insisted and obviously was helped on by someone. I think that the employees have to learn to say NO and stick to it. and close the ride for the remainder of that day if that is what it takes to keep a guest safe while at the park. I would of closed the ride had I been the one operating it when he would not take NO for a answer. I am sure he already had enough taken away from him and what little enjoyment he had if life was limited but sometimes we have to act in the best judgement of those involved for their own safety.
Kyle Couchman
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Hmmm even with what happened to him and his condition. I have a feeling that Nancy grapevine revelation sounds a little off. If such was true there would have been more about it in the media as such insistance tends to attract attention, also with the way lawsuits fly around I cant see anyone taking a chance letting him on if he was denied in the first place. Operators im sure are told horror stories bout allowing this kind of stuff as part of their minimal training. So forgive me if I doubt the "grapevine"
Frank Bartholomew
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Nancy, thousands of coaster enthusiasts visit this park each year, you don't just shut a ride down because someone won't take no for an answer. With all due respect, I think security would have been summoned to defuse the situation. If a park employee supersedes a subordinates decision, the door to a lawsuit flies open, specifically where safety issues are involved.
Steve Bailey
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This rider was told NO and went to the HR dept at the park and complained, so how could they say no to a handicapped war vet without that making the news? I is sad that this happened but plain and simple he should not have been on the ride the blame for this accident should be shared on both parts.

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