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Probe Into Amputee Iraq Soldier’s Rollercoaster Death

July 11, 2011

A 208ft tall rollercoaster in New York state has remained closed amid questions about the death of an Iraq war veteran who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb and the decision to allow him on the ride.

Sgt James Hackemer, 29, of Gowanda, was thrown from the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, between Buffalo and Rochester, on Friday.

Amusement park industry consultant Dennis Speigel said two factors should be considered when determining whether someone should be allowed on a ride.

“One is rider responsibility and then there is operator responsibility, and those two issues have to homogenise,” he said. “This just seems to me that it was a bad decision on both parts.”

Sgt Hackemer’s relatives have said they do not hold the park responsible for his death.

“It’s nobody’s fault. It was an accident. James thought it wasn’t an issue,” his sister Jody Hackemer said at the weekend regarding her brother’s disability.

She said her brother had recently returned from the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he was fitted with a new set of prosthetic legs. Ms Hackemer said she did not believe he was wearing the prostheses on the rollercoaster.

Rules posted on the park’s website for the Ride of Steel say guests with “certain body proportions” may not be able to ride it, but it does not give specifics. The rules specifically bar people without both legs from riding at least two other coasters in the park, the Motocoaster and the Predator.

Mr Speigel, who is not involved in the probe, wondered whether Sgt Hackemer’s military service played a role in the decision to allow the ride.

Parks in general were sensitive to the military, he said, with many offering significant discounts and ticket giveaways to service members and their families.

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