Death on Tram Tour at Universal Tied to ‘Horror Night’ Stunt
The young Universal Studios employee who was killed Friday night by a tour tram during a special “Halloween Horror Night” show had been assigned to jump out and scare passengers on the tram when he was run over and dragged to his death, officials with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
The victim, identified Saturday as Paul Rebalde, 20, of Woodland Hills, was stationed on a parked tram filled with mannequins dressed to look like corpses, according to Sheriff’s Department information officer Merlyn Poppleton.
Rebalde, who was also in costume, was to leap from among the mannequins on the parked tram and frighten people passing on moving trams, according to Poppleton. Somehow Rebalde became trapped between the third and fourth sections of one of the four-section trams, and was “run over and dragged for approximately 100 feet,” Poppleton said. He was pronounced dead at the scene at about 9 p.m.
Poppleton said he did not know how Rebalde became trapped between the sections.
Investigators on Scene
Investigators from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s environmental crimes-occupational safety division were on the scene Saturday. John F. Lynch, who heads the unit, declined to comment on the case except to say that there were “interviews taken of some people that may have been eyewitnesses, but, until we take a look at those, we don’t know what we have.”
According to Joan Bullard, publicity director for Universal Studios, “There was no indication that the tram had a problem or anything like that. The sheriff has told us that it was an unfortunate accident.”
Rebalde had worked in merchandising for Universal Studios since the beginning of May, Bullard said. She said that sort of job is “very broad,” but several studio workers interviewed Saturday said Rebalde’s job included selling toys and serving as an assistant manager of a booth that sold film near the front gate.
Rebalde volunteered for the Halloween night work, Bullard said.
“It’s not unusual,” Bullard said. “We have a lot of volunteer people working on the Halloween event. There is no skill involved in what he did.”
The event was the first such show held after dark at Universal Studios, Bullard said. Normally, the tours of the park end at nightfall. She said the company expects to lose money on the weekend venture but would not be more specific.
About 100 security guards roamed the grounds during the show, with at least two guards aboard each tram, which carry a maximum of 175 people, Bullard said. The studio sold all 7,500 tickets for each of the first two shows, and a few tickets still were available Saturday for the Sunday show, she said.
No changes were made in the Halloween show’s program for Saturday and Sunday, Bullock said. The program includes a tram ride through some of the studio’s better-known filming sets, she said. Alongside the ride, movie monsters pop out at the visitors. “It’s a lot of ‘boo,’ ” Bullard said.
“I would imagine tonight safety procedures will be heightened even more,” Bullard said of the Saturday show.
Most Universal Studios employees approached by The Times declined requests for interviews.
Several who spoke on condition they not be identified said they knew little of what had happened Friday night.
Employees described Rebalde as a thin, rusty-haired youth who was quick with a smile and who almost always wore dark sunglasses.
‘One of Sweetest Kids’
“He was one of the sweetest kids that worked up here,” said another. “He was the kind of guy that always walked around with a smile on his face. Everybody liked him.”
“All of us are in shock right now,” another studio employee said.
According to an official statement, “Universal Studios Tour is extremely sorry and saddened that this unfortunate accident occurred last night at a safe and fun event which otherwise was without incident.”
Bullard said the tour’s safety record is “exemplary” and that “we have never had an incident like this in our 22-year history.”
“We’re all very sad,” she said.