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Funeral set for amputee vet killed on coaster

Jul. 11, 2011 - 04:52PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 11, 2011 - 04:52PM  |  
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BUFFALO, N.Y. Funeral services are scheduled for later this week for Army Sgt. James Hackemer, the amputee war veteran who fell to his death off an upstate New York roller coaster.

Hackemer, who had lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008, was ejected last Friday from the Ride of Steel coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort, located between Buffalo and Rochester.

The 208-foot-tall ride remained closed for a third day Monday as investigators looked into the accident. A Massachusetts congressman, meanwhile, renewed his 12-year-old call for federal oversight at amusement parks, including enabling the Consumer Product Safety Commission to investigate mishaps.

"While the cause of the accident that claimed the life of Sergeant Hackemer is still unknown, one thing is crystal clear: hypercoasters that hurtle riders at speeds exceeding 70 mph along 200-foot drops should not be exempt from federal safety oversight," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement.

Markey's office on Monday said he would soon reintroduce legislation he has proposed in every term since 1999, targeting what he calls a "dangerous loophole" that gives the CPSC oversight of traveling carnival rides but not those at permanent parks. Those are the responsibility of the states, which Markey said may lack the resources and experience to carry out effective checks.

The legislation is opposed by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions as unnecessary. The IAAPA's statistics show the likelihood of being seriously injured on a permanently located amusement park ride in the United States is 1 in 9 million, spokeswoman Colleen Mangone said.

The state Labor Department, which enforces amusement ride safety in New York, has initiated an investigation into Hackemer's death, while local authorities, including the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, are separately looking into the accident. It was unknown when results might be available, said Labor Department spokesman Leo Rosales, who declined Monday to discuss what the investigation would entail.

Rules on Darien Lake's website say riders must be 54 inches or taller to board the Ride of Steel. They don't specify whether riders must have both legs, as do rules for some other coasters in the park.

Hackemer was missing all of his left leg and most of his right leg and was not wearing prosthetic limbs when he was thrown from the ride.

A funeral service for Hackemer is planned for Thursday in his hometown of Gowanda. The 29-year-old father of two will be buried on a later date at Arlington National Cemetery.

Darien Lake, on its website, has asked witnesses to contact the park to provide information or seek assistance.

Hackemer's relatives have said they do not hold the theme park responsible.

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