Image: Ride of Steel roller coaster
David Duprey  /  AP
The Ride of Steel is one of the tallest roller coasters east of the Mississippi River.
NBC News and news services
updated 7/9/2011 2:55:27 AM ET 2011-07-09T06:55:27

A U.S. Army veteran who lost his legs while deployed in Iraq died after he was thrown from a 200-foot-tall roller coaster at an upstate theme park on Friday.

James Thomas Hackemer, 29, was ejected from the Ride of Steel roller coaster at the Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, located between Buffalo and Rochester, at about 5:30 p.m., the Genesee County sheriff's office said.

The park confirmed a guest "came out of the Ride of Steel roller coaster" and said it was "saddened to report that the guest has passed."

Hackemer, of Gowanda, lost his right leg below his knee and his left leg at his hip because of a roadside bomb while he was deployed in 2008, authorities said. He had been living with his parents.

"It's going to help a little bit that he was happy," his mother, Nancy Hackemer, told The Buffalo News. "We shouldn't have had him for these last three years and four months."

She said the family had recently returned from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., where her son got "a new set of legs."

"He was assisted onto the ride," she said. "He was doing what he wanted to do."

No obvious problems
The park said local authorities and its safety experts were investigating.

Investigators said Hackemer was a passenger in the front seat and fell out at a "low hill" in the ride, WGRZ-TV reported. An initial investigation found no obvious problems with the restraints.

The park's website describes the Ride of Steel as one of the tallest coasters east of the Mississippi River, climbing 208 feet and reaching speeds in excess of 70 mph.

The roller coaster and surrounding area were closed after the man's death, park spokeswoman Cassandra Okon said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and the family of the guest," she said.

The death was at least the second in the last couple of months at Northeast amusement parks.

In early June, an 11-year-old girl on a class trip to Morey's Mariner's Landing Pier in Wildwood, N.J., fell about 150 feet from near the top of a Ferris wheel and was killed.

A state report found the ride's restraints to be working properly, and investigators haven't been able to determine how the girl, who was riding alone, got out of the Giant Wheel gondola.

Her parents have filed suit against the ride's operator.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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