- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

BATAVIA, N.Y. (AP) — A double-amputee Iraq War veteran who was hurled off a towering roller coaster to his death never should have been allowed on the ride, but park operators will face no criminal charges despite violating park policy, authorities said Wednesday.

Signs at the Ride of Steel roller coaster at Darien Lake Theme Park & Resort clearly state that riders “must have two legs,” Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha said.

Sgt. James T. Hackemer died Friday when he was thrown from the last and second-highest of three hills on the coaster. He fell about 150 feet and landed on a grassy area at the park, which is between Rochester and Buffalo.

“He didn’t have the physical attributes to hold him in,” Sheriff Maha said.

Investigators found no criminal activity, including intent. Yet the ride operators, who were not identified, “clearly knew” Sgt. Hackemer shouldn’t have been riding but offered no explanation for why they let him on.

“Darien Lake violated their own policies and procedures by letting him get on the ride,” Sheriff Maha said.

A promotional photograph taken automatically shows Sgt. Hackemer’s college-age nephew, Ashton Luffred, looking straight ahead in the moments after the accident, his face without expression and his hands on the safety bar in front of him. Authorities aren’t releasing the photo.

Sheriff Maha said Mr. Luffred was in a state of shock after the accident but told police Sgt. Hackemer didn’t say anything to indicate he was worried about falling off the ride.

Sheriff Maha said park operators clearly violated policy by letting Sgt. Hackemer on the ride but won’t face criminal charges.

Civil liability could be determined later if a lawsuit is filed, he said. Sgt. Hackemer’s relatives have said they do not hold the theme park responsible.

Sheriff Maha said the state labor department still is investigating the mechanics and safety of the ride but have indicated to him that the coaster was operating correctly.

Sgt. 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. The 29-year-old father of two lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008 and was on a family outing when the accident occurred.

A funeral service for Sgt. Hackemer is planned for Thursday in his hometown of Gowanda. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The car pulled into the loading station with the lap bar and seatbelt still in place, Sheriff Maha said.

The ride is still closed pending the state labor department probe.

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