IT was the theme park tragedy that shook America.
The horrifying death of an Iraqi war hero who was thrown from a 208-foot roller coaster at 50 mph at Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort in Buffalo, New York.
Sgt. James Thomas Hackemer, 29, died in July 2011 after riding the Ride of Steel roller coaster during a family outing.
He had already weathered great adversity, having lost both his legs in a 2008 roadside bombing.
That forced him to learn to eat, speak and write again, the US Veterans Department wrote.
But after a long and tough recovery, James has enjoyed being able to spend time with loved ones again.
And part of that was enjoying days with his two young daughters and teenage nephew, all of whom had taken him to the park on the day of his death.
James’ nephew Ashton Luffred, then 19, told news outlets his uncle said: “I’ll put my hands up if we go down.”
But what unfolded would be a scene from a horror movie.
Eyewitnesses watched as he fell about 150 feet to his death.
Driving rules required drivers to have both legs, investigators said.
James was not wearing his prosthetic legs at the time of the incident.
Luffred told the New York Post: “The last time I saw him was when he was kicked out.
“He had nothing to hold him down.
“Once I realized he was quite a distance from the seat he was too far for me to grab and at that speed it wouldn’t have done much even if I was able to catch his shirt. “
Hackemer was at the top of the roller coaster when he fell to his death.
His family said no questions were asked about the disabled veteran’s decision to drive by operators.
State labor authorities said in 2011 they had not received adequate training to comply with safety regulations, Reuters reported.
The Department of Labor said: “The park’s safety and operational requirements, which were prominently posted at the entrance to the Ride of Steel, were not followed by the ride operators.
“These rules require drivers to have both legs because the safety devices restrain the legs, shins and lap to keep the driver safe in the car driving.”
James’ family later sued Darien Lake Theme Park and Resort for wrongful death.
A seven-figure settlement was reached in 2013, the Associated Press reported.
James’ sister Jody Hackemer said: “He was determined to ride every roller coaster.
“The minute he was on that ride, he probably felt the happiest and most normal he had in three and a half years.”
“He would always say the funniest things to make people laugh, and nine times out of ten it was directed at himself,” added Jody.
“He had a thirst for life and wanted to do as much as possible.”
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6338140/iraq-war-hero-rollercoaster-death/ Harrowing last words from the 29-year-old Iraq war hero before he was catapulted off a 208ft roller coaster in a tragedy that shocked the US