Pain and suffering in the park. 01-10-1999
"There is no evidence of any death at Disneyland - EVER!"—Wiz. refering to 1998 Christmas Eve Columbia Disaster, killing Luan Phi Dawson.
[Ed. As of January 15, 2008 - The lowest price ticket for a single adult park entry was $63, The two ParkHopper ticket price was $83.00 U.S.]
Despite two straight years of declining attendance, Disneyland has added a dollar to the price of a one-day admission. In what has become an annual rite, the theme park raised its adult admission price to $39 this month. Children's admissions are $29 and senior citizens $37, also up $1 each. The prices were boosted to compensate for higher operating costs and new entertainment, said Lynn Holt, a Walt Disney Co. spokesman in Anaheim. "We feel the park continues to remain a strong value in the market," he said. Disneyland prices are now up 18% from 1995, when a regular adult admission was $33, and 225% from 1982, when it cost an adult $12 for a single-day admission. Not since 1991 has the park gone a year without a price increase. At archrival Universal Studios Hollywood, spokesman Eliot Sekuler said prices for now remain the same as last year: $38 for adults, $28 for children and $33 for seniors. Sekuler said price hikes will be considered later this year. Not so at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, which plans to hold the line on prices after some sharp increases in recent years. The park charges adults $36, and children and seniors $26. "I don't plan to raise our regular gate price a penny this year," said general manager Jack Falfas. All the parks have cut-rate promotions that send many people through the turnstiles for substantially less than the regular price. Disney, for example, plans several options this year on its popular flex passes, which are promoted through its hotels to encourage guests to stay longer. The passes typically have given users five admissions for the price of two. One variant offers early admission on all five days, plus a "special event" such as a tour of the park, for $99, employees said. Disney also announced a promotion Monday with McDonald's Corp., a game that will reward buyers of McDonald's French fries with prizes, including a $12 discount on a regular admission to Disneyland. At Knott's, special deals will continue with corporate partners such as Pepsi Co. and Ralphs supermarkets, Falfas said. "When you've got a big dog down the street like Disney, you've got to do some promotions," he said. Attendance at Knott's held steady last year at about 3.4 million. In a report last month, the trade publication Amusement Business estimated that Disneyland attendance, at 13.7 million last year, was down 4% from 1997 and about 9% below 1996 levels. El Nino rains early in the year, heavy construction in the Disneyland area and foreign economic woes shared the blame for the 1998 decline.
* It seems that the execs at Disney are once again trying to shift blame onto less fortunate employees ("Autopsy Sheds Light on Accident at Disneyland," Dec. 31).
Now we learn of the employee who didn't receive proper training, made a judgment error or maybe was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It has become increasingly obvious that maintenance has been allowed to lapse. And the parking situation is a disaster waiting to happen; the trams cross the boulevard's traffic, and people sometimes wait more than an hour to get on, since there is no way available for guests to simply walk back to their cars.
It's about time we had a working amusement park safety commission and quit assuming that the good people at Disney know what they are doing.
* Re "Death in the Magic Kingdom," editorial, Dec. 28:
Now let's see: 400 million visitors, 43 years, not even a handful of serious accidents in which Disneyland could reasonably be held responsible, and The Times calls for government regulation. Wow!
If you seriously think that applying the tired old liberal mantra of regulate, regulate, regulate to sterling operations like Disneyland would enhance the safety of its guests even a fraction, you need to spend more time in Fantasyland.
Investigators in several cities with major amusement parks say Anaheim police violated basic standards of police work when they delayed going to the site of a serious accident at Disneyland until after park employees had moved and cleaned up some of the evidence.
"If there's a serious injury out here, we are going to be there on the spot," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Carl Deeley, who patrols Magic Mountain near Santa Clarita.
Even before Disneyland officials briefed Anaheim police, amusement park workers had mopped up the scene of the accident that ultimately took the life of a tourist and injured his wife and an employee.
Police defended their decision not to view the accident site until after Disneyland officials had washed away blood, moved evidence and brought witnesses for police to interview, often accompanied by a Disneyland official. It was an accident, not a crime scene, Anaheim police said.
But other police agencies that provide services to amusement parks said they would have raced immediately to seal off the scene, corral witnesses and probe for evidence of foul play.
"You lose a lot by not going directly to the scene," said Santa Clara Det. Sgt. Phil Zaragoza, who recently investigated a death at Paramount's Great America amusement park in that Bay Area city. "You want to know [the workers'] state of intoxication or sobriety. What if there were sabotage? If the evidence was cleaned up, how would anyone know?"
It is impossible to tell whether a serious incident is an accident before a full investigation is conducted, several police officers said.
Buena Park Police Sgt. Ken Coovert, whose agency covers Knott's Berry Farm, said: "If there's a death and it's potentially due to worker error, that's a potential manslaughter case."
Coovert and others interviewed for this story commented before the release late Thursday of Anaheim's police report, which indicates that detectives who investigated the accident did not arrive at the park until three hours after it occurred, then spent another hour and a half with Disneyland officials and witnesses before heading to the scene. A patrol officer, however, had arrived at the park 40 minutes after the incident.
Santa Clara Sgt. Anton Morec said that he was unfamiliar with Anaheim's policies but that most agencies would send officers immediately to the site of the incident.
"You're taking control of the information," Morec said. "You're not allowing them to spoon-feed you. Maybe Anaheim has a special relationship with Disney. Maybe they trust their security. Obviously, there's a comfort zone."
The coroner's report attributed the Disneyland accident to a worker's attempt to tie up the sailing ship Columbia at dock while the vessel was moving too fast. The report said a mooring rope pulled off a metal cleat that struck two tourists in the head, while the rope seriously injured the worker on the dock. The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the accident because the worker was involved.
The incident has raised questions about how the police--and Disney officials--handled it.
"You need to have an independent investigation that would be uninfluenced by Disney," Morec said. "Maybe the worker was under the influence, maybe the maintenance records indicate this cleat was due for maintenance two weeks earlier. You treat it as a crime scene until you know otherwise."
Anaheim Police Chief Randall W. Gaston on Thursday supported the actions of his detectives, saying it is "usually counterproductive to rush directly to the scene."
He said it was the decision of his seasoned lieutenant to stay in Disneyland's security office to question people "who had knowledge of what transpired" instead of heading first to the scene.
"The detective on the scene didn't think there would be any additional information to be gained by rushing to the scene," Gaston said. Paramedics had summoned patrol officers to Disneyland when it became clear that one of the victims might die.
Luan Phi Dawson, 33, of Duvall, Wash., died two days later of a brain hemorrhage and skull fracture. His wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, underwent surgery for facial disfigurement. The Disneyland employee, Christine Carpenter, 30, had surgery for a severely lacerated foot.
Gaston said that much of the accident scene had been cleaned up by the time detectives arrived and that Disneyland had moved much of the equipment involved.
But, he added, "we were able to inspect all the apparatus that was involved. . . . No item that would have been of evidential value had been tampered with or was missing."
Despite the cleaned-up site, Gaston said his detectives conducted a thorough inquiry, documenting the scene and taking numerous measurements to reconstruct what happened. He said he is confident that his investigators did not miss any possible evidence of sabotage or other foul play.
A ride operator at the park, who asked to remain anonymous, said Disneyland employees started to clean up the area within 10 minutes of the accident. A custodial supervisor was seen wiping down blood-spattered rafters. Disneyland officials say they cleaned up the site because it was unsightly for visitors.
Gaston said he would not advise Disneyland to refrain from cleaning up accident sites in the future, adding that such things must be judged on "a case by case" basis.
And he said his department had been "if anything, overly cautious in investigating."
But Zaragoza said it is important that trained police investigators--not park officials, however well-intentioned--be the first to question witnesses.
"We prefer not to have people's thought processes tainted in any way by outside suggestion," he said. In addition, it "removes the stigma of conflict of interest. The community deserves an independent investigation."
Disney spokesman Ray Gomez said Disneyland in no way impeded Anaheim investigators' "full and immediate access to the scene." But he declined to address whether workers should have cleaned up the accident scene and moved evidence before police arrived.
Jay Siegel, associate director of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said the Anaheim police's tactics are fairly common when a popular and powerful company like Disney is involved.
"You've got a large company with a large security force. Unless there is some strong evidence that a crime has been committed, then the police--for public relations or political reasons--allow the company to handle it largely themselves," Siegel said.
"It's the recognition of reality over the best possible police work. I think it's realistic. I don't think it's good."
Staff writer E. Scott Reckard contributed to this report.
A fatal Disneyland accident on Christmas Eve sprayed a swath of metal debris across the dock of the sailing ship Columbia, accoridng to police reports released Thursday. Where the evidence fell:
(chart) What Happened When
Anaheim police waited nearly 4 1/2 hours Christmas Eve before investigating the scene of a deadly Disneyland accident, according to records released Thursday. A timeline of events:
10:40 a.m.: Accident occurs as ship docks
10:50 a.m.: Paramedics arrive at dock
11:23 a.m.: First officer arrives at security office
3:05 p.m.: Officers investigate dock accident scene
Sources: Anaheim Police Capt. Steve Sain; Anaheim Fire Department Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD and E. SCOTT RECKARD / Los Angeles Times
Anaheim police investigators took 4 1/2 hours--much longer than first believed--to reach the scene of a fatal injury at a Disneyland ride Christmas Eve, according to police reports released Thursday.
The reports reveal a new timeline and details of the police investigation into an accident that killed a Washington man and injured his wife and a Disneyland employee.
Police took about three hours longer than first reported to get to the Mark Twain dock in Frontierland, where an 8-pound cleat from the sailing ship Columbia had ripped off during docking and was flung into a crowd waiting to board the ride.
Police Capt. Steve Sain said the initial call to police from paramedics indicated no officers would be needed for what was described as multiple injuries. Later on, he said, officers approached the incident as an industrial accident, not as a possible crime. That made it less necessary to reach the scene quickly, he said.
In accidents, police frequently try to get information first before approaching such scenes mainly to avoid misinterpreting or disturbing evidence, Sain said.
The first uniformed patrolman arrived at Disneyland offices at 11:23 a.m., nearly an hour after the 10:40 a.m. accident, after a cleanup of the scene was well underway, according to police dispatch logs. He stayed in the security office and never went to the scene.
Investigators arrived at the park about 1:30 p.m. and went to the security office for a briefing. The first investigator reached the dock at 3:05 p.m., according to the police reports.
Sain said it is "absolutely standard procedure" for uniformed officers to stay in the security office and wait for Disneyland guards to bring them victims, suspects or others for interviews.
Disneyland employees were well into cleaning up the dock and collecting the cleat and other evidence before the first officer arrived at park offices. By the time investigators reached the dock, the cleanup was complete. Park officials said they acted quickly to keep other visitors from viewing the scene.
"Prior to my arrival, the items from the accident had been removed and the area cleaned up of any blood and paramedic debris," wrote James Conley, the forensic supervisor.
Conley also noted that the mooring line had been removed from the scene.
The mooring line played an important part in the accident, according to Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez. He said the 1 1/2-inch line made from synthetic material was designed to snap if the Columbia approached the dock too fast and put too much stress on the line.
Instead, when assistant manager Christine Carpenter attached the line, it wrenched the cleat free from the ship's bow. The cleat hit Luan Phi Dawson, 33, and his wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, of Duvall, Wash.
Dawson, a computer programmer, was pronounced dead two days later of brain hemorrhaging from a fractured skull. Vuong is recovering from severe head injuries.
Carpenter, 30, suffered severe foot injuries when the cleat pulled loose and the line whipsawed around. She is recovering after surgery to reconstruct her foot. The state Department of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating the accident because the Disneyland worker was involved.
Sain reiterated earlier police statements that detectives could have gone directly to the scene had they wished.
In the reports released Thursday, Disneyland workers recount how a common docking mix-up turned to a scene of carnage on the dock.
The Columbia's helmsman, Matthew B. Childress, 22, of Anaheim, told Det. John Duran that he knew as he brought the ship in that it was moving too fast for the docking line to be attached.
Childress said he assumed they would overshoot the dock and then back up for proper mooring--a standard procedure when the ship moves too fast.
Childress said he never heard co-workers say "bow line secure," as they are supposed to do when the mooring line is attached. Instead, he said, he heard a "loud pop."
Police determined that no sabotage or criminal negligence had occurred and closed the inquiry.
A 16-year-old computer buff and Disneyland fan known online as "Ebola Man" <firstname.lastname@example.org> faces theft and vandalism charges after using his Internet site "http://dui.tannerweb.com/" to post pictures of property stolen from the Anaheim park, police said Thursday.
The youth, who lives in Orange, put up a photo-illustrated account of a break-in at the private Club 33[http://members.xoom.com/disneyintel/] in Disneyland's New Orleans Square area, the only place in the park that serves alcoholic drinks. Also included were advice on how to shut down some rides, and photos of documents taken from the park.
Among the documents were technical drawings for a McDonald's French fries food cart that opened recently in the park as part of a joint marketing agreement with the Walt Disney Co.
The cart, unpopular with some park aficionados, was vandalized in a late-night attack in December. The damage, caused by someone slinging brown paint, was described in an Ebola Man posting on an Internet chat site the next morning.
Anaheim Police Sgt. Joe Vargas said the youth, whom The Times is not naming because he is a minor, was booked and released last month on felony charges of grand theft and receiving stolen property. He also is under investigation in connection with the vandalism, Vargas said Thursday.
"There were a lot of coincidental comments on the Web that it seems would be known only to someone involved in the malicious mischief," he said.
Vargas said police want to question another youth they believe was an accomplice. Meanwhile, he said, "the Web site has been shut down at the request of the suspect's parents."
Ebola Man was well-known among Disneyland fans who trade gossip on the Internet. They speculated he worked at the park because of his detailed knowledge of it.
Al Lutz, who maintains the Disneyland Information Guide site on the Internet, praised the technical expertise displayed at Ebola Man's site but deplored the use of the Internet to promote alleged illegal behavior.
"The fact he would show the stuff he stole was just stupidity incarnate," Lutz said. "It was just insane. But I guess he's just a kid."
Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez said company officials had alerted Anaheim police to the Ebola Man site on the Internet and had cooperated with the investigation.
Detectives located the youth by serving search warrants on Internet service providers that had hosted his site, Vargas said.
Detectives from an economic crimes unit then raided the youth's home, confiscating his computer and allegedly stolen property.
Vargas said police took the incident seriously because threats had been posted on the Internet. "It's just amazing how a very bright kid can be so mischievous," he said. "And it's my understanding the parents were totally unaware of what he was doing with his computer."
Gary Birch, founder of the Anaheim Hills multimedia company Statmedia, said he became a mentor to the youngster four years ago. The youth has always exhibited a singular flair for computers, Birch said.
"I think and I hope that this is a chance for him to reevaluate his direction," Birch said.
Review of Police Policies on Disneyland Is Sought
Roger Baker, the captain of police detectives, said he wishes his investigators had reached the scene earlier. He said it was unfortunate that Disneyland officials cleaned up the site of the accident before his department had a chance to investigate.
Police reports released Thursday showed that investigators did not arrive at the park until almost three hours after the accident, and then spent an hour and a half being briefed by park officials in a conference room before going out to the scene of the incident.
"We need to look at how those scenes are processed," Baker said, noting that Disneyland officials didn't even photograph the scene before the cleanup.
Disneyland workers mopped up and hauled away evidence from the area shortly after a heavy metal cleat from the Columbia sailing ship ride wrenched free, fatally injuring the tourist and severely injuring his wife and a Disneyland employee.
Concerns about the accident and the way it was handled led Anaheim City Manager James D. Ruth to promise a "comprehensive chronological" report to the City Council next week.
Safety: Anaheim chief acts after criticism following fatal incident involving ship cleat on Christmas Eve. He stresses in statement that park officials' actions did not impede investigation.
By PHIL WILLON, Times Staff Writer
Facing criticism over his department's slow response to the Christmas Eve accident that killed a tourist, Anaheim's police chief told Disneyland officials Saturday to leave major injury and crime scenes undisturbed until police can investigate.
Chief Randall W. Gaston said in a statement that he and his top commanders told park officials that police must take immediate control of major incidents at the park.
The Police Department has come under widespread criticism for waiting 4 1/2 hours--including a 1 1/2-hour briefing in a park security office--before visiting the river dock where a Washington man was killed and his wife and a Disneyland employee were maimed. Park employees, meantime, cleaned up the bloody scene and removed evidence from the area.
"Any major injury, fatal accident or crime scene [should] be immediately preserved and prompt notification be made to the police department," Gaston said. "This police department will then manage the scene through the conclusion of the investigation."
Gaston could not be reached Saturday to elaborate on his statement, which comes several days after he strongly defended the Police Department's handling of the accident.
In the earlier interview, Gaston said it would have been "counterproductive to rush directly to the scene." Police have steadfastly defended their actions, noting that the Disneyland incident was an accident, not a crime.
The Saturday meeting was held at the park and included a Disneyland manager and security chief as well as Gaston and other top police officials. Det. Capt. Roger Baker, who attended the conference, said Disneyland staffers were very receptive to the department's concerns.
After the fatal accident, Disneyland officials did a good job preserving the evidence and assisting with the police investigation, but park officials should have allowed the police to handle the matter, Baker said.
"In a perfect world, this would not have occurred," said Baker. "We don't think we missed anything on this one, but it does help if we're there from the outset."
Saturday's announcement does not signal any change in department policy, Baker said, but constitutes an "affirmation" to businesses and institutions that police need to be notified about potentially serious situations. He said the Disneyland tragedy deviated from the policy.
"In this particular case, we were the last ones to arrive, and being the last ones to arrive, we did not get the opportunity to secure the scene ourselves," Baker said. "There's always concern about that."
On Friday, the Anaheim city manager promised a full review of the police response and said a report about the deadly incident will be made to the City Council this week.
Other law enforcement agencies that police theme parks criticized the way the Anaheim police responded to the Christmas Eve accident. Police should immediately respond to an accident to secure the area, find witnesses and ensure that evidence is not disturbed, they said.
City Councilman Tom Tait on Saturday expressed confidence in Gaston and the police investigation, saying he viewed the tragedy as a freak accident and there was no indication a crime was involved.
"I don't think they did anything wrong, but it never hurts to relook over procedures," Tait said of the Saturday meeting.
City Councilwoman Lucille Kring on Saturday declined to comment about the incident until she is briefed about the matter by city officials.
A coroner's report said the accident occurred when a dock worker tried to tether the Columbia sailing ship to the dock while it was moving too fast. A metal cleat snapped off the boat and struck the Duvall, Wash., couple in the heads. Luan Phi Dawson, 33, was killed. His wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, and ride operator Christine Carpentar, 30, were seriously injured.
The first uniformed patrolman arrived at Disneyland offices at 11:23 a.m., nearly an hour after the 10:40 a.m. accident and after a cleanup of the scene was well underway, according to police dispatch logs.
He stayed in the security office and never went to the scene.
Investigators arrived at the park about 1:30 p.m. and went to the security office for a briefing. The first investigator reached the dock at 3:05 p.m., according to the police reports.
Disneyland officials could not be reached for comment Saturday. Park officials said in the past that cleanup crews acted quickly to keep other visitors from viewing the grisly scene.
Gaston stressed in his statement that Disney's action did not impede the police investigation.
"There has been no discovery of any intention or action to tamper with any of the items related to the incident that were collected and preserved by Disneyland personnel, nor to delay or obstruct the police investigation," Gaston said.
He also said the accident has been "thoroughly investigated" by his department, and that police have provided all findings to the Orange County coroner's office and the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, which is investigating the accident because a Disneyland worker was injured.
Imagine the following, if you will. Three people are hurt, two seriously, by a flying object. Paramedics race to the scene. Eventually, the police are called. But wait, instead of rushing to the scene, they wait in a conference room for a corporate briefing of the events that transpired.
Meanwhile, the blood and debris the accident caused is quickly cleaned up. It's not good for paying customers to see and, seemingly more important, it's not good for business. To make matters even more preposterous, the flying object isn't released to the police until four days later, as one of the injured dies.
Unfortunately, this tragic event actually occurred at Disneyland and the law enforcement agency guarding the public interest is the Anaheim Police Department.
Is Disneyland not located with the city limits? Apparently, the Anaheim Police Department isn't so sure or waiting for a briefing is a commonplace occurrence. One wonders if a private citizen could ask the police to wait for an hour or so before they investigate a crime.
Or is it just Disneyland is the biggest corporation in the city and is used to having its way with the city, the county, the state and the country?
Obviously, this is another example of Disneyland run amok and the city nothing but a willing accomplice to Disneyland's rule.
* Shawn Hubler's Jan. 4 column complains that the Christmas Eve Disneyland accident has "barely created a blip." In fact, a few days following the accident, I visited Disneyland and would likely have had no problem getting on the Columbia had it been open.
I don't think the reason for this nonchalance, as Hubler put it, is a reluctance to see past the "magic" of Disneyland. Indeed, my comfort with going on that or any ride at Disneyland comes from a couple of things.
First, with as many visitors as Disneyland hosts each year, the number of accidents is remarkably low. I'm not expert in statistics, but I'd bet visitors are more likely to get into a traffic accident on their way to the park than be injured on or by one of the rides. Second, as a regular visitor I see rides being closed for maintenance. The new "Rocket Rods" ride was closed for several weeks following the reopening of Tomorrowland to ensure that it was operating safely.
I just can't believe that Disneyland would jeopardize their reputation for safety by ignoring any known condition or concern or by improperly training its employees.
Regarding Hubler's concern about Disney officials remaining tight-lipped in the face of questions only they can answer, I'd guess that in today's litigious s ociety they were only following the directions of their attorneys.
And that "locals [weren't] any more demanding than usual about the facts," I'd suggest was because Disneyland has earned our trust in the past three decades, and we really don't believe they have anything to hide.
Not to take this particular incident lightly, as any fatality should and likely does give pause to reflect on how to further improve safety and prevent the same thing from happening again.
ROGER L. LONG
* How cozy! The entire Anaheim Police Department sits cooling their heels, willingly, while Disney workers tidy up the scene.
Only after it has been hosed down and properly cleaned up do they burst onto the scene! Is the fix in? Is Mickey the new Godfather?
* Re "Bill Requiring State Checks at Theme Parks May Be Revived," Dec. 29:
To prevent accidents at theme parks, it is hard to imagine that an inspection system driven by bureaucrats could be more effective than an inspection system driven by the self-interest of the theme park in not having an accident become a series of lead news articles.
Although the self-interest did not prevent the tragic accident at Disneyland, there is no way to guarantee that a state inspection system would have prevented it, either.
DAVID J. ARTHUR
* The Times' marathon coverage of this tragedy is unfair to Disney. For the Times' editorials to suggest profit versus safety is a cheap shot and unjustified.
Disneyland's track record is unmatched when it comes to safety of the general public. Hiring "outside oversight" people to advise Disney would only confuse and slow Disneyland's internal safety process.
I doubt that any proposed state inspectors would ever think to look at the Columbia ship, let alone a cleat from it. This is a very sad accident, period.
Police Chief Randall W. Gaston said he told park officials Saturday that officers must be promptly notified of any future accidents, and that any major injury, fatal accident or crime scene must be preserved until their investigation is complete.
On Dec. 24, 1998, an 8-pound metal cleat ripped loose from the sailing ship Columbia as it was being moored. Luan Phi Dawson, 33, of Duvall, Wash., was struck in the head and died of a brain hemorrhage and skull fracture. His wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, and a park employee were also injured.
The first uniformed policeman arrived about an hour after the accident and waited in the park security office. Police investigators responded two hours later and were briefed in the office before finally arriving at the dock, police reports and dispatch logs showed.
By that time, Disneyland workers had cleaned the area. Park officials said the blood and accident debris were washed away because they were unsightly.
Gaston stressed that police did not believe Disneyland intentionally tampered with evidence or obstructed the investigation.
DISNEY'S EASTERN-TIME-ZONE-LAND: Incidentally, a colleague who visited Disneyland on New Year's Eve reports he saw clocks that were set three hours ahead of time. Why? Apparently so that when Eastern television viewers were treated to a look at the Magic Kingdom, the time would match theirs. How considerate.
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