Tragedy struck Darien Lake ThemePark yesterday, Friday July 8, when an Iraqi War veteran fell from the Ride of Steel coaster to his death in the evening. First reported by WIVB News 4, Sgt. James Hackemer, who had both legs amputated, was helped onto the ride by attendants at around 5:30 p.m. After the ride dropped down its first big hill and came to the fast first turn, Hackemer flew out of the car and was thrown to his death.
Sgt. James Hackemer lost both of his during the war in Iraq three years ago when an IED bomb went off, and was actually clinically dead twice on the battlefield and operating table after his heart stopped. News 4 said that “He believes he saw heaven and hell. He returned home with a new sense of faith, a new sense of courage.” He was released after three years of rehabilitation on March 18 this year. Shortly after his release, he decided he wanted to ride Superman: Ride of Steel at Darien Lake.
So far, the park has said very little about what happened, but is currently investigating the young man’s death, and park employees have expressed their deepest sympathies. The biggest question raised from the incident is whether or not he should have been allowed on the ride; perhaps he would not have fallen out if he had not lost both legs? It’s a very tough question to answer, and something Darien Lake is not yet ready to answer but will investigate further.
Built in 1999 at a cost of $12 million, the Ride of Steel opened as the tallest coaster east of the Mississippi, but this is not the first tragedy the ride has experience. On May 16, 1999, not long after the rides opening, Mike Dwaileebe fell from the ride 10 feet to the ground as the train was turning to the final brake run, suffering rib fractures and other internal injuries. Shortly after this, the park added safety belts and changed the lap-bar system to the coaster and several other similar coasters by the manufacturer.
When News 4 spoke with Sgt. Hackemer’s mother, she told them “This is what he wanted to do…he wanted to live.” She also told BuffaloNews.com ‘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.” COASTER-net will continue to follow the details of the story as things develop and the investigations are completed.