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On July 8, 1974, employee Deborah Gail Stone, 18, of Santa Ana, California was crushed to death between a revolving wall and a stationary platform inside the America Sings attraction. She was in the wrong place during a ride intermission; it was unclear whether this was due to inadequate training or a misstep. The attraction was subsequently refitted with breakaway walls.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
On September 5, 2003, 22-year-old Marcelo Torres of nearby Gardena, California died after suffering severe blunt force trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster that also injured 11 other riders. The cause of the accident was determined to be improper maintenance and training of Disney employees. Investigation reports and discovery by Torres’ attorney confirmed Mr. Torres’s fatal injuries occurred when the first passenger car collided with the underside of the locomotive. The derailment was in part the result of a mechanical failure, which occurred as a result of, among other things, omissions during a maintenance procedure of at least two required actions, the left side upstop/guide wheel on the floating axle of the locomotive was not tightened in accordance with specifications; and a safety wire was not installed and/or completed the necessary maintenance required by said tagging system, all with knowledge of Disney management and personnel.
On December 24, 1998, a heavy metal cleat fastened to the hull of the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose, striking one employee and two park guests. One of the guests, Luan Phi Dawson, 33, of Duvall, Washington, died of a head injury. The normal non-elastic hemp rope (designed to break easily) used to tie the boat off was improperly replaced for financial reasons by an elastic nylon rope which stretched and tore the cleat from the ship’s wooden hull. Disney received much criticism for this incident due to its alleged policy of restricting outside medical personnel in the park to avoid frightening visitors, as well as for the fact that the employee in charge of the ship at the time had not been trained in its operation. Due to this incident and the way it was handled, Disney reinstated lead foremen to many rides, and the Anaheim police began placing officers in the park to speed response. This accident resulted in the first guest death in Disneyland’s history that was not attributable to any negligence on the part of the guest. California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigated the incident and found fault with the training of a park employee, who placed the docking line on the cleat even though the cleat was not intended to help brake the ship, but only hold it in place once it had already docked. Ride procedures call for the ship’s captain to reverse the ship if it overshoots the dock and then re-approach the dock at the correct speed. Cal/OSHA fined Disneyland $12,500 for the error, while the theme park settled a lawsuit with the victim’s survivors for $25,000,000, according to a Los Angeles Times estimate.
On May 6, 2001, 29 people suffered minor injuries when a tree in Frontierland fell over. It is believed that the tree was over 40 years old, and one of the park’s original plantings.
Indiana Jones Adventure
On June 25, 2000, 23-year-old Cristina Moreno of Barcelona, Spain, exited the Indiana Jones ride complaining of a severe headache. She was hospitalized later that day where it was discovered that she had brain hemorrhaging. She died on September 1, 2000, of a brain aneurysm. Her family’s subsequent wrongful death lawsuit against Disney stated that Moreno died due to “violent shaking and stresses imposed by the ride.” In an interlocutory appeal (an appeal of a legal issue within the case prior to a decision on the case’s merits), the California Supreme Court held that amusement parks are considered common carriers similar to commercially operated planes, trains, elevators, and ski lifts. This ruling imposes a heightened duty of care on amusement parks and requires them to provide the same degree of care and safety as other common carriers. Disney settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum after the interlocutory appeal but before a decision was rendered on the case’s merits. Moreno’s medical costs were estimated at more than US$1.3 million.
In 1964, 15-year-old Mark Maples of Long Beach, California, was injured after he stood up in the Matterhorn Bobsleds and fell out. It is reported that his restraint was undone by his ride companion. He died three days later as a result of these injuries.
On January 3, 1984, 48-year-old Dolly Regina Young of Fremont, California was killed when she was thrown from a Matterhorn Bobsleds car and struck by the next oncoming bobsled. An investigation showed that her seatbelt was found unbuckled after the accident. It is unclear whether Young deliberately unfastened her belt or if the seatbelt malfunctioned.
In 1966, Thomas Guy Cleveland, 19, of Northridge, California, was struck and killed by the monorail, which then dragged him 40 feet down the track. This occurred on Grad Nite while he was trying to sneak into the park by climbing onto the monorail track.
In August 1967, 17-year-old Ricky Lee Yama of Hawthorne, California, was killed while jumping between two moving PeopleMover cars as the ride was passing through a tunnel. Yama stumbled and fell onto the track, where an oncoming train of cars crushed him beneath its wheels and dragged his body a few hundred feet before it was stopped by a ride operator. The attraction had only been open for one month at the time.
On June 7, 1980, 18-year-old Gerardo Gonzales of San Diego, California, was crushed and killed by the PeopleMover while jumping between moving cars. The accident occurred as the ride entered the SuperSpeed tunnel.
Rivers of America
In June 1973, 18-year-old Bogden Delaurot, of Brooklyn, New York, drowned while attempting to swim across the “Rivers of America”. Delaurot and his 10-year-old brother stayed on the island past closing time by hiding in an area that is off-limits to guests. When they wanted to leave the island, they decided to swim across the river. Bogden carried his younger brother on his back, as the younger brother was unsure how to swim, but Bogden drowned halfway through the swim. His body was found the next morning. The younger brother was able to stay afloat by “dog paddling” until a ride operator rescued him.
On June 4, 1983, 18-year-old Philip Straughan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, drowned in the Rivers of America while trying to pilot a rubber emergency boat from Tom Sawyer’s Island that he and a friend had stolen from a “cast members only” area of the island.
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
On September 22, 2000, 4-year-old Brandon Zucker fell out of the ride vehicle and was dragged underneath the car, causing internal injuries, cardiac arrest, and brain damage. While pinned under one of the ride’s cars for several minutes, he suffered a ruptured diaphragm, a collapsed left lung, a torn liver and spleen, and a fractured pelvis. He was in a coma for several weeks. On October 7, 2000, Disneyland changed its 911 emergency policy, instructing ride operators to call 911 for emergencies first instead of calling the Disney security center in order to speed emergency staff to any incident on park property. Records showed that more than five minutes passed between the time Zucker fell out of the ride vehicle and emergency personnel were contacted. A Disney spokesman claimed that the timing of this policy change and the Zucker incident were coincidental. As part of the undisclosed settlement, Disney admitted no blame for the accident, but part of the settlement was that Disney would pay the boys medical expenses for life. Brandon Zucker passed away on January 26, 2009 at the age of 13.
On August 14, 1979, 31-year-old Sherrill Anne Hoffman became ill after riding Space Mountain. At the unload area, she was unable to get out of the vehicle. Employees told her to stay seated while the vehicle was removed from the track. However, other ride attendants did not understand that Hoffman’s vehicle was to be removed, and sent her through the ride a second time. She arrived at the unloading zone semi-unconscious. Hoffman was subsequently taken to Palm Harbor Hospital, where she died seven days later after being in a coma. The coroner’s report attributed the death to natural causes, due to a heart tumor that became dislodged and entered her brain. A subsequent lawsuit against the park was dismissed.
On March 7, 1981, 18-year-old Mel C. Yorba of Riverside, California, was fatally stabbed with a knife during a fight in Tomorrowland. His family sued the park for US$60 million. The jury found the park negligent for not summoning outside medical help, and awarded the family US$600,000.