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Disneyland to Offer Closing Arguments in Stabbing Suit

Times Staff Writer

A young man who was stabbed in Disneyland and bled to death would have received better medical care and might have survived if he had been injured on the street outside the park, a lawyer argued in closing statements to the jury Monday.

When Mel C. Yorba, 18, was stabbed inside the park in 1981, trained medical technicians and paramedics were available “everywhere but within the boundaries of Disneyland,” attorney John A. Luetto told jurors who must decide whether Disneyland failed to protect Yorba or provide him proper medical treatment.

Closing arguments on behalf of Disneyland are expected to begin today in the multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought on behalf of the Riverside man’s mother and brother. The two-week-long trial in Orange County Superior Court produced conflicting evidence on virtually all key points, with both eyewitnesses and medical experts who studied records of the case flatly contradicting each other.

No Paramedics Called

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In his argument Monday, Luetto reminded the jury that no paramedics were called to treat Yorba despite a written park policy requiring that they be summoned in life-threatening emergencies. Yorba was stabbed through the heart with an 8 1/2-inch-long knife after a scuffle in Tomorrowland on March 7, 1981. James O’Driscoll of San Diego was convicted in the death and is serving a 16-year-to-life prison term.

“Disneyland didn’t hold the knife, but they held the key to his survival,” Luetto said.

Throughout the trial, Disneyland attorney Richard E. McCain has maintained that the death--the park’s only homicide--was a terrible tragedy. McCain said Disneyland did everything it could: Within about 12 minutes of the incident, park nurse Elizabeth Santy Micco was at Yorba’s side, had recognized the life-threatening nature of his wounds and ordered a park van to take him to the nearest hospital emergency room, about two miles away.

Two Eyewitnesses

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Luetto’s evidence included the only two eyewitnesses to the immediate aftermath of the fatal stabbing; both said that Micco did not arrive for 20 or 25 minutes.

“Disneyland’s point has always been that it’s a race to the hospital, but that’s not what this case is about,” Luetto said in a recent interview. “You have to take time to buy time. There were measures that could have been taken in the field to prolong Mel Yorba’s life.”

Disneyland’s own policies and procedures manual for first aid and safety for 1981 states that paramedics should be called in cases such as Yorba’s. But as with other key points in the trial before Judge Jerrold S. Oliver, what seemed to be a clear fact quickly became a muddled dispute.

Micco, the registered nurse employed by Disneyland, said she had never seen that provision of the procedures and testified further that she had been advised “orally” never to call paramedics to the park.

Luetto argued Monday that Yorba received “ineffectual first aid by a confused elderly nurse who did not know what to do, who had never been in this position before and should not have been put in this position.”

Luetto emphasized repeatedly the testimony of Alice Sylvester of San Diego, a park visitor who went to Yorba’s aid. About 20 to 25 minutes passed, Sylvester testified, before park personnel took charge.

Witnesses called by Disneyland and log books kept by nurses, security guards and the former Palm Harbor General Hospital, where Yorba arrived with no pulse, respiration or heartbeat, indicate that Yorba was in the emergency room less than 25 minutes after the stabbing.

Jurors must also resolve the clash of the experts. Witnesses disagreed over how quickly paramedics could have responded.

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Physicians, too, disagreed.

In the most dramatic assessment of Yorba’s injury, chest surgeon Dr. Louis Taucher testified Monday morning that the young man’s wound was “absolutely” fatal.

Taucher, who tried to revive Yorba at Palm Harbor General Hospital, testified that “I don’t think (Yorba) could have survived this stab wound if he had been stabbed in an operating room.”

Dr. Robert Barros, another Palm Harbor emergency room physician testified last week that “only God could have saved him.”

But Dr. Kenneth Ransom, a surgeon who heads the trauma program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Long Beach, testified that paramedics might have been able to stabilize Yorba long enough to save him had they been called. Ransom said he has treated a dozen patients with stab wounds to the heart and half of them have survived.

In the 1981 suit, Yorba’s mother, Ellen Lawrence of Riverside, asked for $60 million in damages against the park, but final court documents show Lawrence and Yorba’s brother, Mark, are asking for damages “according to proof.”


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