Roller Coaster Remains Closed After Tragedy

July 11, 2011 Updated Jul 11, 2011 at 7:51 PM EDT

By Jennifer Stanonis

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July 11, 2011 Updated Jul 11, 2011 at 7:51 PM EDT

DARIEN CENTER, NY (WKBW) -- The roller coaster ride at Darien Lake Amusement Park remained closed Monday after it took the life of 29 year old Sergeant James Hackemer. The Iraq War veteran was thrown from "The Ride of Steel" early Friday evening. Hackemer's family including his sister, wife, and two kids were at the park the day of the accident. "He is our hero, he's our brother, he's our best friend," Sergeant Hackemer's sister Paula Norley said. "He was everything to us and I just know he's in a better place and sometimes I just can't believe this has happened."

A few years ago Hackemer almost lost his life in a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. He lost his legs and suffered brain damage. He recently returned home to Gowanda from Walter Reed Hospital after major physical therapy. But at the amusement park late last week he was thrown from the ride and killed. "He's been through so much and to think that this happened on top of everything he's already gone through in life," Norley said. "He was a double amputee... he wanted to get on the roller coaster, he did, they let him. They let handicap on and it's not an unusual occurrence, and it was just a tragic accident... trying not to feel guilty for taking him to the park that he wanted to go so badly to with us. There's a lot of emotion right now."

Roller coaster experts say these rides are overall safe. "These rides are inspected daily by the parks, by the insurance company, and in most cases are inspected by the states," Dennis Speigel, the President of International Association of Amusement Parks, said. "This year over 350 million {people} will visit theme parks in the United States, literally taking billions of rides and there will be some incidents and issues...but very very small numerically."

Experts say in this recent accident both parties may be a large part of the cause. "To allow a person to ride and for that person to want to ride that doesn't have legs or a lap, particularly when a lap bar is involved to keep the person... in," Speigel said. "It comes down to two things, rider responsibility... and it comes down to operator efficiency. It's still early in the investigation to know exactly what happened but it sounds like this was a situation that bad decisions were made on both parties."

A facebook page dedicated to Hackemer's memory is filled with loving messages. "He just had a zest for life and he did believe in living it to the fullest," Norley said. "I know when this happened he was having a great time."

Memorial services for Sergeant James Hackemer are as follows: wake hours on Wednesday, July 13 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm and 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Memorial services on Thursday, July 14 at 11:00am. Both services will be held at the Gowanda Assembly of God located at 78 Allen Street, Gowanda, NY. Food donations may be taken to the American Legion from 7pm to 9pm on Wednesday and 9am on Thursday. Burial services at Arlington are yet to be determined.

Another man was thrown from that same ride, "The Ride of Steel" back in 1999. An Olean man was hospitalized for broken ribs after being hurled into the air. Excessive weight may have played a factor in the accident. Following that incident Darien Lake installed a new seat belt system and made other adjustments. Experts say they believe adjustments will also be made after this recent case. "I would say it's probably reasonable to assume that amputee ridership on rides of this nature will see new guidelines immediately, if not already," Speigel said.