Sunday, July 10, 2011

Double amputee Iraq war veteran dies after he was flung off roller coaster at 50 mph

Struggle: In March 2007, Mr Hackemer nearly lost his life after both legs were blown when his vehicle hit an IED

An Iraq war veteran who lost both his legs to an IED attack has died after being flung from a roller coaster.
Sergeant James Hackemer, 29, died after falling from the Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park, Syracuse, New York.

He was visiting the park with his daughters, sisters and other members of the family. He was on the ride with his nephew, Ashton, a sophomore at the University at Buffalo, when the tragic accident happened.

According to park officials, Mr Hackemer was travelling at 50 mph in the front row of the roller coaster when he was ejected.

Investigators say nothing mechanical was wrong with the ride and both the safety harness and restraining bar were working.

Speaking to, Heather Comer - who was at the park at the time of the accident - spoke to a witness who saw the accident.

Mrs Comer said: 'She was shaking pretty bad and she said yeah some guy just fell out of the superman like in front of me. 

'And, supposedly, they said he didn't have any legs. And so he went over a hill and he had fallen out.'

In March 2007, Mr Hackemer nearly lost his life after both legs were blown when his vehicle hit an IED.

Mr Hackemer had spent three years of rehabilitation before his March 18 release from Walter Reed Army Medical Centre.

His heartbroken mother Nancy Hackemer said late Friday night: 'It's going to help a little bit that he was happy.

'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, of Gowanda, New York, 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, Virginia.

Speaking to the Buffalo News, Mrs Hackemer said: 'He was assisted on to the ride. He was doing what he wanted to do.'

She added that family members are planning a 'Celebration of Life' for her son.

Mr Hackemer, despite his terrible disabilities, had been staying active since returning home in the spring after the three-year rehabilitation.

He and a neighbour would do a daily three-mile bicycle ride, with Mr Hackemer using hand pedals to propel his bike.

He was pizza and chicken wings with friends, going to the movies, spending days with Ashton at University of Buffalo, watching the Sabres and Yankees on television.

He even had plans to hunt deer and turkey from a four-wheeler later this year.

'He was so happy to be home,' Mrs. Hackemer said.

Speaking to The Sun Chronicle in 2008 about the attack in Iraq, Mr Hackemer said: 'I don't remember going down the road, but I remember the blast.

'At first I wasn't sure what had happened. The next thing I know, I was being lifted out of the vehicle. And then a soldier was standing over me saying, 'Hang in there, buddy.''

Two other soldiers who were with Mr Hackemer also lost both legs.

According to the paper it was only after an army comrade brought an iPod of Mr Hackemer's favourite songs that he started to respond.

His brother John said: 'He held up his hand as if he was playing air guitar.
'We knew something was happening.'

In a statement the park said: 'An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster, and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed.

'Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the guest.'

The park's website describes the Ride of Steel as one of the tallest roller coasters east of the Mississippi River, climbing more than 200ft and reaching speeds of more than 70mph.

A park spokeswoman said the roller coaster and surrounding area were closed after the accident and authorities and the park's safety experts were investigating.

This isn't the first serious accident reported on the Ride of Steel that first launched following a $12million improvement to the park in 1999.

Shortly after its grand opening, Mike Dwaileebe, then 37, of Olean, fell out of his seat 10ft to the ground as the ride was braking on its final approach near the station house.

Mr Dwaileebe suffered multiple rib fractures and internal injuries in the May 16, 1999, accident. 
Six Flags, the operator of the park at the time, had argued that the injuries resulted because Dwaileebe, who weighed more than 300lb, was too large for the seat's lap-restraint bar to engage. 

Park officials later added safety belts.

A Cattaraugus County jury, however, found the park fully liable and awarded a $4million verdict to Dwaileebe following a six-week trial. 

The case was eventually settled for $2.85million, according to the Buffalo News.