Magic Mountain reopened Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for two melees that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment.
An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and looted merchandise in time for Sunday's 10 a.m. opening. The most noticeable effects of the violence were the presence of more sheriff's deputies and intensified searches of purses and bags by park security.
Hundreds of rowdy youths rampaged through the park and nearby Santa Clarita in two waves of violence Saturday, first in the afternoon and again at night, leading to dozens of minor injuries and three arrests. Sheriff's deputies at the Santa Clarita station were told at a Sunday morning briefing that damage could reach $750,000, Deputy Doug Schoenborn said.
The cause of Saturday's violence was unclear. Magic Mountain blamed the crowd attracted by rap music, the promoter blamed the amusement park for overbooking and the Sheriff's Department said it is not sure who is responsible.
But the Sheriff's Department said its emergency planners, worried about the potential for violence around Los Angeles County after the verdicts in the Rodney G. King federal civil rights trial, were not prepared for trouble at Magic Mountain. Department officials said the park had not notified the department in advance that the concert was scheduled.
On Sunday, the Sheriff's Department pledged an investigation into park--and concert--admission practices. Entrance to the park did not guarantee a seat at either of two evening shows by the groups TLC and Paperboy, which cost $1 extra. All 6,250 tickets to the concerts quickly sold out to patrons inside the park, leaving many without tickets.
Magic Mountain spokeswoman Eileen Harrell said park officials did nothing wrong. She blamed the violence on a crowd attracted by "that type of music" and vowed, "We won't be scheduling any more groups like that in here, ever." Paperboy's promoter threatened to sue the park, saying Magic Mountain oversold the concert.
Unlike Disneyland, which attracts many families with small children, Magic Mountain and its thrill rides are geared toward a more adventurous crowd, especially teen-agers. The park also sponsors concerts to attract teen-agers and young adults, including Saturday's shows.
The two groups that performed are regarded as milder than the hard-core "gangsta" rap groups more commonly associated with violence at concert venues. TLC, a three-woman group with several top 10 hits, is known for wearing condoms on their baggy, psychedelic outfits. They had a hit last year with the racy "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg."
Paperboy's song "Ditty" is currently No. 5 on the national pop music charts.
The afternoon trouble began after the park reached capacity and officials closed the gates. The crowd was estimated at about 40,000 people, one of the largest in the 21-year history of the park, officials said.
The California Highway Patrol closed nearby freeway off-ramps, permitting only residents with identification to exit. The result was an eight-mile backup on the northbound side. The ramps were reopened at 1:15 a.m. Sunday, the CHP said.
A crowd of 300 to 400 people moved down the hill from the amusement park entrance onto a commercial strip of restaurants and gas stations bordering the Golden State Freeway, breaking windows and looting. Sheriff's deputies arrived to clear the streets but were met by a volley of rocks and bottles.
At a Wendy's hamburger stand, the mob broke 11 windows, smashed a salad bar and dented cash registers, an assistant manager said. The windows were fixed Sunday but the computerized registers remained broken, forcing clerks to look up prices and calculate sales tax on handwritten order tickets.
Schoenborn of the Sheriff's Department blamed hard-core gang members for the outbreak of vandalism. "They started all the trouble and then others just got swept up in it," the deputy said.
Harrell denied allegations by some youths that gates were closed early because the concert was attracting large numbers of blacks. "That is simply ridiculous," she said. "Absolutely ridiculous."
She did, however, link the violence to tensions associated with the verdicts in the King civil rights trial.
"There was a lot of pent-up anxiety because of the verdicts," she said. Referring to TLC, she added, "This group and the day was a bad combination."
About 8:30 p.m., as the first scheduled concert was ending, another outbreak of violence erupted, this time inside the park. Witnesses said it began after park officials closed a crowded dance club called After Hours. People outside the club broke down the door and that set off looting, which spread through the park, several witnesses said.
Harrell said park security officers told her the second outburst was related to the concert. She said, "People were on the midway, and started running, and that started more and more people running."
About 40 people were hurt, none seriously, when park officials and sheriff's deputies began herding everyone out.
"My kids rushed out for their lives last night," said Dave Bouie, 41, of Los Angeles, whose two teen-age daughters were caught in the melee. "I won't come back here. Not ever." Other parents said deputies controlling traffic prevented them from getting to their children.
TLC's promoters could not be reached Sunday for comment. But Paperboy's manager said he intends to sue Magic Mountain for damages.
"They made us look bad," said John Riley, manager of the two-man group, made up of rap singer Paper and DJ Boy. Magic Mountain officials, he said Sunday, oversold the concert. "We are sorry for the problem and the violence, but it wasn't our fault."
Because of planning for the King verdict, only two of the Sheriff's Department's seven tactical reserve platoons, 56-member squads, had been dispatched to Magic Mountain by nightfall. The rest were in Carson, which delayed the response to the outbreak, said Larry Anderson, commander of the sheriff's Emergency Operations Center.
At 8:30 p.m., two more platoons were sent to the park. At 9 p.m., the last three were sent there.
"This (events at Magic Mountain) is unsuitable to our planning," Sgt. Les Boal, an emergency center supervisor, said late Saturday night. "In fact, we had taken units from up there (the Santa Clarita station) and put them down here (in central Los Angeles). The most horrible thing that can happen to you is to get your people late to a disturbance."
Three minors were arrested on suspicion of receiving stolen property and released to their parents, said Sheriff's Lt. Marvin Dixon, watch commander at the Santa Clarita station.
Dixon insisted there was no go-easy arrest policy because of tensions related to the King case. "It wasn't even a consideration," he said.
Magic Mountain reopened Sunday with about 200 sheriff's deputies on hand. Except for a few gift and souvenir shops that remained closed, there was little evidence of the night's violence. An overnight cleanup operation continued virtually until the 10 a.m. Sunday opening, with workers installing new panes of glass and restocking souvenir shelves.
Times staff writers Jack Cheevers, Mike Connelly, David Colker, Jonathan Gaw, John Johnson, Ken Reich and Rich Tosches contributed to this report.