Gowanda War Vet Dies In Darien Lake Coaster Accident

July 9, 2011 Updated Jul 9, 2011 at 12:50 AM EDT

By WKBW News

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July 9, 2011 Updated Jul 9, 2011 at 12:50 AM EDT

DARIEN CENTER, NY ( WKBW ) Eyewitness News has confirmed that Army Sgt. James Hackemer, an Iraq war veteran and hero, died in a tragic roller coaster accident at Darien Lake Theme Park.

Sgt. Hackemer fell out of the "Ride Of Steel" roller coaster in an incident that happened at approximately 5:30p.m. Friday afternoon.

In a late evening news conference, Genesee County Sheriff Sgt. Greg Walker and a park spokeswoman confirmed that Hackemer was at the park with his children and sister. His children were not with him on the ride at the time of the accident.

Hackemer was reported to be in the very front of the ride, and was ejected from the roller coaster as it was operating. There was another rider beside him.

Army Sgt. Hackemer had lost his legs in combat, leaving him a double amputee. An eyewitness that spoke to WHAM 13 from Rochester said that the man who fell had no legs.

The restraints on this ride are a lap bar and seat belt.

The Genesee County Sheriff did not believe a mechanical issue caused the accident. The ride was reportedly moving at 50MPH at the time of the incident.

Dawn Bigaj, a family friend of Sgt. Hackemer and his family, spoke to Channel 7's Eyewitness News late Friday night. Bigaj called Hackemer a "hero." She noted that Hackemer was said to have died on the battlefields from his injuries twice, only to battle back. Bigaj was involved in a fundraiser for Hackemer in 2008 when he was recovering from injuries sustained in the war.

Hackemer and his family are from the Gowanda area.

A Department of Veterans Affairs government website told Hackerman's story.

In March of 2008, Sergeant James Hackemer was three months into his second Iraq tour when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. The attack inflicted tremendous injuries on him, including the loss of both legs and a traumatic brain injury. He suffered a stroke during his initial medical treatment and spent more than a month in a coma.

James has had a long, tough recovery. His injuries required him to learn to eat again, speak again, and write again. He explains that learning to walk again on new prosthetic legs has been his greatest challenge. But with his family's support, and his numerous treatments and therapies, he is progressing.

Former Channel 7 reporter Julie Fine reported on Army Sgt. Hackemer, and his family, at that time.

James' advice to anyone going through a similar situation... "Hang on. You can make it. It can be hard, but you get out of it what you put in."

A spokesperson for Darien Lake issued this statement to Eyewitness News Friday evening with first word of the accident:

Darien Center, NY (July 8, 2011) – An incident occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Ride of Steel at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort. An adult male guest came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster, and we are saddened to report that the guest has passed. We are currently investigating the situation with our safety experts and local authorities.

Meanwhile, the attraction and surrounding area is closed pending the investigation.

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

Here is some information on the ride from the Darien Lake website:

Ride of Steel ( opened in 1999 )
One of the tallest coasters east of the Mississippi, climbing approximately 208 feet and reaching speeds in excess of 70 mph. Must be 54″ or taller. Guests who are 76″ and above or with certain body proportions may not be able to ride.