In Wake of Magic Mountain Stabbings : Park's Security Chief Says Trouble Is Rare

Times Staff Writer

Dana Wyatt, director of security at Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, found nothing of much interest in his logbook Friday night.

"We had a few people try to sneak in, and some others caught with dope or beer," he said Saturday morning. "Other than that, there's not much to it. It was another boring night."

From the point of view of both Wyatt and the management of the Valencia park, a nearly empty log is significant these days. By their account, the records are proof that the park is safe and orderly, filled almost exclusively with safe and orderly people. Trouble at the park is uncommon, they insist, and serious problems are extremely rare.

Unfortunately for Wyatt, the most recent of these exceptions is barely a week old. On June 22, the park was the scene of a flurry of stabbings, apparently related to a confrontation involving street gangs from the San Fernando Valley. In a little more than two hours, six alleged gang members were wounded in the stabbings and four security guards were assaulted. Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested 21 people on charges ranging from suspicion of assault to suspicion of robbery. Only one felony charge was ultimately filed, however, against an 18-year-old San Fernando man.

'School's Out' Party

The violence marred a "School's Out" party that had drawn 25,000 high school students to the park. It also fueled rumors of persistent problems with street gangs.

In the wake of that trouble, officials at the 14-year-old park have found themselves in an awkward position. On one hand, they are planning to announce a series of "strong security measures" this week, most of them specifically designed to keep gang members elsewhere. So far, park officials have refused to discuss what the measures might be.

On the other hand, they are anxious to stress that Magic Mountain is anything but unsafe. On a typical night, they say, the park's security staff is not so much a team of guards as it is a kind of support staff, with duties ranging from the often mundane to the occasionally bizarre.

Where else, for instance, would employees spend hours searching for a glass eyeball dislodged from a patron's head during a ride on a roller coaster? Where else would it be necessary to explain to a pair of foreign tourists that undressing after a rapids ride was not a common practice?

Patron With Pet Rat

And what do you do when a guest arrives with a large pet rat sitting on his shoulder?

Wyatt said events such as those are far more common than fights.

"It's no different here than it is at Disneyland or other parks like that," said Wyatt, 28. "When you're a security guard you see more things than other people do. But it's not a problem. That's just the way it works."

To prove his point, Wyatt invited a reporter to visit the park last Friday, subject to a few conditions. On the instructions of Six Flags officials, he declined to discuss the size of his staff and some surveillance methods. He also refused to list the weapons available to staff members and the extent of their self-defense training.

Some Undercover Guards

In general, however, most methods are fairly clear. Though there are a few undercover guards working at Magic Mountain, Wyatt said, most members of his staff are dressed conspicuously in blue-and-white uniforms, complete with badges, military-style epaulets and 24-inch wooden batons. Each guard also carries a walkie-talkie.

The park itself consists essentially of a series of attractions clustered around a low hill just east of Valencia. To Wyatt, however, it is better described as a series of "beats," which are patrolled by pairs of security guards working eight-hour shifts. At the entrance to the park, a large group of guards watches over arriving and departing guests, who are sometimes stopped and searched. Some patrol parking lots surrounding the park, while others watch the fences for people who may be trying to gain a free entrance.

For the most part, Wyatt insists that the work is relatively quiet. On Friday, for instance, four people were caught trying to sneak into the park, and eight others were caught with beer or marijuana. Eight people were thrown out of the park, including all of the trespassers, two suspected shoplifters and two people who were caught standing up on a ride. The closest thing to a confrontation came late at night in the parking lot when security guards broke up an argument between a man and his wife.

But if most of the crowds at Six Flags Magic Mountain have little contact with the park's security force--except to ask for directions or to look for misplaced children--Wyatt concedes that there are sometimes strange encounters.

Glass Eye Recovered

A few months ago, for instance, a guest at the park called the security department to report the loss of of a glass eyeball on the park's Colossus roller-coaster ride. Several guards were dispatched to look for the eye, which apparently had fallen out of the guest's head on a particularly sharp turn. The eyeball was found intact the next morning.

More recently, one of Wyatt's guards turned a corner near one of the park's water-based rafting rides to find two French tourists casually disrobing. The tourists, Wyatt said, were planning to wait until their clothes dried before putting them back on. Since neither spoke English, the guard was forced to explain park policies in sign language.

Then there was the case of the guest who showed up at the park with a foot-long rat on his shoulder, its tail wrapped snugly around the owner's neck. When informed that the park had a policy against admitting animals, the guest pleaded with guards to look the other way.

"He said it was his best friend," Wyatt said. "We finally talked him into driving the thing home."

Daytime Family Crowd

Rats and glass eyeballs, like gangs, are not common at the park, Wyatt said. Instead, the crowds consist primarily of families during daylight hours and of teen-agers and young adults at night.

During the day, the largest crowds are found near the rides or in several of the park's restaurants and shops. At night, however, groups seem to congregate around the park's Contempo Dance Pavilion, where a disc jockey plays rock music in 45-minute shifts.

The dance pavilion was the site of much of the trouble that broke out June 22, when the first of a series of stabbings occurred at 2:15 a.m. Police said the stabbings were triggered by the presence of members of three street gangs from the Valley.

Work With Gang Details

Wyatt explained that officials at the park have long worked closely with anti-gang details from the Los Angeles Police and Los Angeles County Sheriff's departments. On the night of the violence, for instance, 11 sheriff's deputies were stationed at the park at Wyatt's request when the violence flared. Every night, the park's security staff enforces a rule against the wearing of "colors," or makeshift gang uniforms.

Wyatt said that Magic Mountain keeps computerized records of people who have caused disturbances and that some are refused admission if they try to return.

Still, Wyatt contends that these kinds of problems are few and far between. By his own account, the stabbings were only the second gang-related problem at Magic Mountain since 1979, when a patron died after a stabbing.

"It's back to normal" after the latest violence, Wyatt said. "All we can do at this point is try and make sure it never happens again."

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