Word on the web is that Army veteran James T. Hackemer, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, died yesterday doing exactly what he wanted to be doing.
He wanted to fall to his death from a 75 mph-plus speeding roller coaster while his two young daughters, waiting for their daddy, suffered a shock that will color the rest of their lives?
I'm sure Hackemer was happy when he went to Darien Lake Theme Park in New York with his family. I'm also sure he was happy when park personnel - who clearly saw his injuries - helped slide him into a car on one of the tallest coasters east of the Mississippi. But I doubt that Hackemer remained happy during those final few moments of his life when he realized that where the Taliban had failed, a sloppy and negligent theme park operator succeeded. I can't even imagine trying to gloss over Hackemer's death with such pablum as to say "he died happy."
Instead, we need to ask hard questions and point out clear facts.
How in God's name was James Hackemer allowed to ride this roller coaster?
* Customers at Darien Lake Theme Park must be at least 4'6 in order to board the Ride of Steel. Customers in doubt about their height are asked to check themselves on a test seat. Even a ride operator with no common sense nor training could see that a man with no legs could not possibly meet the height restrictions.
* Customers with certain body proportions are not allowed to board the coaster. Surely that includes having thighs. The only way customers are secured to the Ride of Steel is via a belt across the thighs. James Hackemer did not have two full thighs.
But this is not the first time someone has been killed or injured on a Ride of Steel.
Less than a year ago, another rider was injured in a similar accident at Darien Lake. The rider was ejected from the Ride of Steel only a few days after it opened.
In 2004, a rider was killed in an accident on another Ride of Steel, at Six Flags New England. The passenger in that incident also did not meet physical requirements enabling him to ride safely. The incident prompted the theme park to shorten the seat belts and install additional restraints.
Meanwhile, Darien Lake Theme Park has posted a note on their website expressing how deeply saddened they are that the guest who "came out of the ride" "has passed."
Somehow, I am not mollified.