Authors: Aaron Goldberg
Tags: #Taled of Real Life Disney Scandals, #Accidents and Deaths, #Sex
The OSHA report faulted a mechanic who didn't tighten bolts and attach a safety wire on the wheel assembly that fell off, a manager who declared the ride safe without inspecting it, and Disneyland's maintenance guidelines for allowing workers to sign for procedures done by others, and obviously the ride operators who heard suspicious noises but didn’t stop the ride. With a mountain of evidence, Disney settled with Marcelo’s family in their lawsuit against the park. The amount was undisclosed and terms were confidential, but Disney did acknowledge the accident in a public statement.
"We all deeply regret that the tragic accident occurred and are terribly saddened by the grievous pain this caused the Torres family," said Disneyland spokesman Rob Doughty.
Unfortunately, we aren’t done discussing Big Thunder and its plight with accidents. When the ride reopened, after the accident investigation, the empty trains crashed into each other after a dry run by cast members.
Then in July of 2004, one train bumped into another as it entered the loading station, leaving five people with minor injuries. OSHA investigators discovered mistakes made by an inexperienced ride operator (who was only on the job for three days and he performed procedures out of sequence) and a software glitch was to blame.
Indiana Jones Adventure debuted in Adventureland in March of 1995. The ride is the fourth successful collaboration between Disney and George Lucas. Guests to the attraction embark on an adventurous trek in a jeep-like vehicle that dips, veers, and careens through an archeological adventure. It is themed after the blockbuster movies that give the ride its name.
The ride vehicles that shuck and jive all over are what make this ride unique technologically. The ride vehicles have on-board computers that can deliver 160,000 different rider experiences as it moves through the attraction. When the attraction first premiered, some of the movements the vehicles made were leading to minor injuries to riders and thus had to be reprogrammed with safety modifications. Apparently, for some riders on Indy, the modifications were not enough to avoid physical injury.
Just a few months after the attraction opened, on July 17, 1995, forty-two-year-old Zipora from Los Angeles was at Disneyland and took a ride on Indiana Jones. After leaving the ride, she felt as though her head was going to explode and began to projectile vomit. Less then three hours later, she fell into a coma. Surviving the coma and three brain surgeries (one of which was to insert a catheter that ran under her skin from the right side of her skull into her stomach to drain excess fluid) her physicians informed her that she had a hemorrhage, which is basically a stroke.
Zipora’s physicians concluded that the hemorrhage was caused by extreme shaking, akin to what is known in infants as “shaken baby syndrome.” In Zipora’s case, the jerking and jarring movements on the attraction tore the brain tissue near the base of her skull. Prior to going to trial, in 1999, Disney settled Zipora’s lawsuit with a confidential settlement.
In November of 1998, Deborah, a forty-six-year-old woman from Texas, suffered a dull throbbing headache after riding Indiana Jones. After passing out two times, she sought medical care, and she too was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. Deborah had to undergo surgery to resolve her medical issue. Disney settled this case out of court with an undisclosed, confidential settlement in June of 2001.
In June of 2000, tragedy struck again for a rider on Indiana Jones. Cristina, twenty-three, visited Disneyland on her honeymoon from Spain. Immediately after disembarking from the ride, she felt as though her “head was rolling around.” Cristina and her husband went back to their hotel where she complained of a severe headache and subsequently lost consciousness.
She was then taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where she was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. Cristina was then taken by air ambulance back to Spain where she continued to be hospitalized for the next several months, while she accrued over $1.3 million in medical bills. Cristina never regained consciousness and passed away on September 1, 2000. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Disney. Nearly seven years later, in January of 2007, Disney agreed to a confidential settlement before the case was set to go to trial.
Despite these tragedies and subsequent lawsuits, Disney maintained that the ride was safe. The riders' injuries or death were unrelated to the attraction. After the settlement of Deborah’s case, Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez remarked that, “Settlements are routine at this stage of any case. Mediation is a costly endeavor for both sides. Disneyland officials continue to firmly believe that Indiana Jones is a safe attraction based on the fact that it carried more than 40 million people since it opened more than six years ago.”
The Academy Award winning movie,
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
, inspired a ride at Disneyland. In 1994, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin debuted in Mickey’s Toontown. The attraction allows riders to control their own ride vehicles by spinning them 360 degrees around. The spinning takes place while tooling through the colorful set and following the adventures of Roger Rabbit and the gang.
In September of 2000, four-year-old Brandon was enjoying Disneyland with his family, celebrating his mother Victoria’s 40
birthday. The family proceeded to Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. They planned this attraction for the last ride of the day. Brandon, his older brother, and his mother were in one car. The following car had his father and grandmother. As the family set out on their three-minute journey with Roger Rabbit, in a blink of an eye, their lives were devastatingly changed.
Brandon fell out of the spinning ride vehicle and was trapped under another vehicle— the ride vehicle his father and grandmother were riding in. The vehicle rolled over him, dragged him several feet, eventually crumpling and folding his 45-pound body in half. Brandon’s father, David, leaped from his vehicle and ran out towards the beginning of the ride and implored cast members to stop the ride, as his son was trapped under a vehicle and being dragged. The ride stopped, the lights came on, but Brandon couldn’t be freed right away.
David ran from the interior of the ride back to the queue where guests where waiting to depart on their own adventure. He screamed and begged for help from cast members and the soon-to-be passengers of the ride. Several times imploring the folks around him to help, he screamed, 'Please help! My son is going to die!' Begging for help, the only response he received from cast members was for him to “Settle down, sir.” They then advised the people who were willing to go help not to do so. Instructing them to stay where they were.
As soon as the cast members disappeared, several people jumped over the fence to help David rescue his son from this horrible scene — a scene so horrible, one of the guests that tried to help was so shaken by the accident, he and his wife turned in their annual passes, as the tragedy haunted them and they didn’t want to return to Disneyland for quite some time. Maintenance workers and paramedics ushered everyone away from the scene and Brandon was eventually freed and rushed to the hospital. Brandon went into cardiac arrest, had a collapsed left lung, and broken pelvis, his diaphragm, spleen, and liver were also torn. Brandon had global brain damage in addition to the internal injuries. Never again able to function physically or cognitively as he did before the ride, Brandon put up a fight for eight years both in and out of the hospital, until he passed away in January of 2009, at age thirteen.
The state investigators from OSHA determined Disneyland employees did not properly load Brandon into the ride. The smallest child should not be placed on the end; he should have been seated the furthest from the cutout entry of the vehicle. The Disney employee also failed to lower the lap bar properly. The investigators ordered significant changes to the ride. Doors were installed with a sensor-equipped guard around the bottom, along with skirts at the bottom of each car. The report also indicated the ride operator first called a supervisor in a break room to explain the situation rather than 9-1-1.
In the months following the accident, Disney made the changes investigators required because, shockingly, Brandon’s accident actually wasn’t the first of this nature. A thirteen-year-old girl was injured on the ride in April of 2000, just a few months before Brandon. The young girl slipped underneath her lap bar and stepped out of her car in an attempt to retrieve a stuffed animal, which had fallen out of it. As she reached to grab the toy, her lower left leg got caught underneath her car. Paramedics were able to dislodge the girl's leg within minutes.
The ride's safety procedures also changed how paramedics would be staffed at the park, along with 9-1-1 being called directly and immediately. Prior to this implementation, cast members were instructed to call a central communications center first, where the center would contact the Anaheim Fire Department. In 2002, Brandon’s family reached a confidential settlement with Disney over the accident.
Long before Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, people were taking their bumps and bruises on Space Mountain. The legendary ride debuted in May of 1977 and takes guests on an intergalactic trip without ever leaving Anaheim. As with all trips aboard a rocket or space ship, the ride can be turbulent and bumpy. For some, this trip is a bit too.
Back in August of 1979, Sherill took a trip on Space Mountain and fell unconscious during the ride. After being rushed to the hospital for care, she passed away seven days later. Her family's lawsuit against Disney claimed Space Mountain caused this fatality. The coroner’s office stated otherwise. They ruled she died of natural causes, as a portion of a heart tumor dislodged had traveled to her brain.
In 1983, James, a teenager at the time, was thrown out of his ride vehicle while taking a trip on Space Mountain. James suffered serious injuries; brain damage and partial paralysis. He sued Disney and the case went to trial in 1985. His lawyers claimed that a defective design caused James to be ejected from the ride. They contended that the ring type of lap bar that was installed on the ride was defective and would permit a person to remove it, thus ejecting them from the ride. James’ attorney even brought in a physicist to testify that the lap bar design appeared to be defective. Adding to James’ defense was the fact that Disney replaced the ring lap bar with a “t” shaped bar; however, on cross-examination, the physicist concluded that gravity would most likely keep the rider in the seat should the bar design be defective or if the bar was raised.
Disney’s lawyers contended that James actually wriggled out of his lap bar intentionally and thus he was ejected. Jurors sided with Disney despite James being in the courtroom in a wheelchair and needing braces to help him walk.
Decades later Space Mountain is still giving both Disney and guests some bumps. In August of 2000, a wheel on a Space Mountain car became dislodged. The safety system kicked on and the ride stopped abruptly; nine people suffered minor injuries. In April of 2013, Disney voluntarily shut down Space Mountain for one month. The shut down was spurn by an OSHA safety review over an incident where a worker fell down the outside of Space Mountain and was injured.
Even today, Space Mountain leads the list of incidents at Southern California theme parks. In a study of reported incidents and accidents (these could be as minor as feeling lightheaded, vomiting, or someone having high blood pressure or a pre-existing condition and shouldn’t be on the ride anyway) from 2007-2012, utilizing data from the California Department of Industrial Relations, Space Mountain had more incidents than any other attraction—not just Disney but all of Southern California—with over 120 incidents. With that being said, everything is relative, and a few numbers can put this into perspective. During this five-year period, the ride had over forty-four million riders. That equates to one incident in every 367,000 riders.
Overall, the topic of Disneyland and accidents must be looked at in the same way as we just looked at Space Mountain—on the macro level. Since 1955, and with billions upon billions of rides taken, there have been fewer than twenty deaths in and around the parks, hotels, and parking structures. Not every accident or tragedy at Disneyland was mentioned in this chapter, just some of the more noteworthy ones.
Obviously, Disneyland is the setting each year for some form of accident or incident. But what about a joyful accident, do these even exist?
Well, one does come to mind, joyful, yet nerve-wracking. How about giving birth at Disneyland? The first time this happened was on July 4
1979. Rosa knew she was taking a chance by attending Disneyland that day. By the time she boarded the submarine voyage, she knew the chance was now a sure thing. Several minutes later, she gave birth to a baby girl. This happy event has happened several times over the years, with the most recent one happening in March of 2012.
As many people know, the theme parks we see at Walt Disney World weren’t Walt’s original intentions. In his original “Florida Project,” the theme park was going to be tertiary, a vehicle to lure folks down to his property to see his other marvels— which may have been less interesting to some people than a theme park. In an effort to keep this brief, Walt wanted to create a prototype community of tomorrow. Within this community would be a revolutionary place for people to work, reside, and live their day-to-day lives. A few aspects of what Walt originally planned to have on the property were implemented; obviously the theme park, Walt Disney World was one of them.
Another one of Walt’s plans was for an on site airport of the future. We know this never came to fruition, but something in the vein of an airport did, at least for a brief time. In October 22, 1971, three weeks after Walt Disney World opened, Disney announced one of the nation's first STOLports (and Florida’s first) was coming to Disney World. What is a STOLport you ask? STOL stands for Short Take Off and Landing.
Not too far from the entrance to the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center is a 2,000-foot runway (it can still be seen via car or Monorail) that can handle the duties of smaller commuter planes, with average passenger capacities of around 19 people. The STOLport was set to handle around twenty-six flights per day via Shawnee and Executive Airlines. These carriers would service the cities of Tampa, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale by way of Disney.