DARIEN, N.Y. (WIVB) - A trip to an amusement park ended in tragedy for a decorated veteran Friday night.
News 4's George Richet says there are very few stories he knows he will never forget. One of those stories is that of Sgt. James Hackemer, the Gowanda High School graduate who lost his legs in the war in Iraq three years ago. He died twice on the battlefield that day when his heart stopped. He believes he saw heaven and hell. He returned home with a new sense of faith, a new sense of courage, learning to live with new legs.
Friday night, Sgt. James Hackemer brought his courage to Darien Lake, got on the biggest roller coaster in western New York, and during the ride, fell off to his death.
Daniel Sommer was on the ride around 5:30 p.m. on Friday about ten seats back. In one of the first seats in the car, he watched a double amputee get in. It was Sgt. James Hackemer, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq three years ago.
"They were helping him in, and we were on the ride, and we started to go, and we went on the first drop. We were about, probably 75 miles an hour, had to be, coming down from that drop. And on the first turn, this kid with no legs, he flies out of the car," said Sommer.
It happened on the first turn after the big drop. Did the workers know he was handicapped?
Sommer said, "Yes, they did. They knew he was handicapped. He had no legs. They were very quick about securing people in. They should be more helpful to people. They should be more secure about how the people are secured."
So far, the park isn't saying much about the death of Sgt. Hackemer.
"An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed away. We are currently investigating the situation with our safety experts and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with the friends and family of the victim," said Darien Lake spokeswoman Linda Taylor.
The next big question is: should he have been on that roller coaster? And what roll did his having no legs have in Sgt. Hackemer falling off the ride? Darien Lake is not ready to answer that question yet. However, News 4 spoke with Sgt. Hackemer's mother and father. His mother said, "This is what he wanted to do. He wanted to live."
The Ride of Steel and surrounding area remain closed to the public and may remain closed on Saturday. The rest of the park is operating as normal.
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