BUFFALO, New York (Reuters) - A disabled war veteran fell to his death from a 208-foot-tall rollercoaster late on Friday afternoon, tragically ending his miraculous return to normal post-war life.
U.S. Army Sergeant James Hackemer, 29, a double amputee, fell from the Ride of Steel rollercoaster at the Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort about 30 miles east of Buffalo around 5:30 p.m. local time on Friday, according to park officials, who said they were deeply saddened by the incident.
According to local authorities and news reports, Hackemer lost his legs and a hip when a roadside bomb exploded when he served in Iraq in 2008. He suffered two strokes, blood loss, and brain damage in the attack and then spent three years in rehabilitation, during which he re-learned how to eat and speak. He was released in March and lived in Gowanda, New York.
"We are all brokenhearted by this tragic accident and will continue our support of both the family and the investigation," said Darien Lake Theme Park Resort General Manager Chris Thorpe in a statement.
Investigators are still trying to determine how the incident occurred.
Hackemer's mother, Nancy, told local media after the accident on Friday that her son had been helped on to the ride by other people and was "doing what he wanted to do."
"I want to live my life to the fullest from here on out," Hackemer told local news media after his rehabilitation.
Hackemer rode the Ride of Steel, which reaches speeds of more than 70 miles per hour and is considered one of the tallest rollercoasters east of the Mississippi.
"Guests ... with certain body proportions may not be able to ride," according to ride information on Darien Lake's website.
The ride is closed pending results of the investigation. The park remains open.
"The preliminary investigation determined that Mr. Hackemer was ejected from the rollercoaster as it was in operation," according to a statement from the Genesee County Sheriff's office. "As a result of being ejected, Mr. Hackemer received fatal injuries."
Hackemer is survived by his parents and two children.
"It's going to help a little bit that he was happy," Hackemer's mother Nancy told local reporters after the accident. "We shouldn't have had him for these last three years and four months."
(Reporting and writing by Eric Johnson; Editing by Greg McCune)