Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Roller Coaster Of Death Kills Amputee

7 Dec 2011When it comes to theme parks, I’m certainly no dare-devil.... I could barely go on a ‘family’ water rapids ride, whilst on my honeymoon in Queensland this year, let alone any kind of roller coaster. Luckily for me though, standing at only 105cm (3 feet) tall, I wasn’t allowed on many of the ‘scary’ rides, so instead of looking like a sissy, I just said, ‘oh well, I’m too short to go on!’.

Because of my brittle bones, if I was to go on a rollercoaster, I could easily break something. I recall when I was about nine years old; I went on a small rollercoaster at a fair with my step mum, under the proviso that she held on to me tightly. I’m sure she did her best, but because I was getting myself so panicked, I gripped onto the rail so firmly, that both of my wrists cracked. I guess you could say that that incident scared me out of trying any other thrill rides.

For 29 year old Sgt James Hackemer, from Gowanda, NY, he couldn’t wait to get on a Superman ride, called ‘The Ride of Steel’ at the Darien Lake Amusement Park in July this year. You see, James was serving in the army in Iraq in 2008, when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, causing him to lose both legs, one above the knee, and the other just below the hip. After years of therapy and rehabilitation, his life was just starting to return to how it was before his accident, and he was learning how to use some prosthetic legs.

He has said in previous interviews, upon returning from war, that he believes he died twice in March 2008, once on the side of the road, after the explosion, and the other time, whilst on the operating theatre. So he was determined to live his life to the fullest and in his own words, have ‘no regrets’, which is just what he was doing at Darien Lake Amusement Park.

He went to the park with his two young daughters, and some other family members, who say he was determined to go on every ride in the park. In the early evening, James was assisted onto the Ride of Steel, and was even assured by staff that he would be fine going on the ride, despite having no legs.

The harness, which locked down over the hip and leg area was closed, along with a safety belt, and the ride began. It was just after the first big decent, and flying along the track at and travelling at speeds of up to 70 miles, when the cart took a sharp turn, which flung James into the air, and came hurtling down to the ground, dying on impact.

The ride was closed down shortly after the incident, while park attendants began investigations. James’ large family of one brother, four sisters and his mother and father were obviously devastated, but also felt a sense of contentment, knowing that James died whilst doing something that he was so determined to do, and made him feel like his old self again.

A spokesperson from Darien Lake Amusement Park has said that there are restrictions for who is and isn’t allowed on certain rides, and they don’t know why James was allowed on the Ride of Steel. The way the harness works, would only operate correctly on someone who had both legs, as it doesn’t go over the shoulders at all. The park was deeply saddened over what happened, and have retrained their staff to ensure this kind of accident never happens again.

This has definitely encouraged me to stay off roller coasters for good now! I feel for James’ family, but also feel grateful that he died doing something he enjoyed. I just hope the end to his life was quick and he didn’t suffer.

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