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Theme Park Draws Big Crowd Day After Killing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six Flags Magic Mountain opened Thursday to its biggest crowd of the year, park executives said, a day after Daniel Vega, a 15-year-old Fontana boy, was shot to death in the parking lot.

Two others shot in the incident--the victim’s 14-year-old cousin and a 37-year-old woman bystander--were listed in good condition Thursday by Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital administrators.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives questioned many witnesses to the shooting that occurred at 8:40 p.m. Wednesday, in an effort to track down as many as three gunmen.

“Apparently, they had an argument or some sort of altercation before the shooting,” Deputy Cruz Solis said.

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Sheriff’s officials said they do not know whether the incident was gang-related.

Solis said the attack was “definitely not a drive-by shooting,” but he declined to describe the form of the assault.

But a guard who had been perched directly over the action in a watchtower said the gunman had fired from a moving car, according to Magic Mountain spokeswoman Bonnie Rabjohn. The security guard notified the Sheriff’s Department.

“Apparently, [Vega] and his partner were the intended targets,” said Solis, who said the assailants sped away in a gray Ford Taurus. “There were many witnesses.”

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The two wounded victims declined to be interviewed and authorities would not identify them. Although the park had closed 40 minutes before the shooting, many visitors were still walking to their cars when it occurred, Rabjohn said.

“This was an isolated and senseless act that could have happened anywhere in Southern California,” she said. “There was nothing we could have done to prevent this from happening.”

Wednesday night’s shooting was not the first incident of violence to occur at the amusement park.

In 1985, six people were stabbed, four security guards injured and 20 people arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery, trespassing, public drunkenness and other misdemeanors after an annual “School’s Out” party turned into a gang brawl.

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In 1993, youths awaiting a concert at Magic Mountain rioted, attacking a nearby gas station and fast-food franchise and stealing cash from registers. It took 380 deputies and California Highway Patrol officers to control the crowd. Later, a Sheriff’s Department report blamed park executives for closing the park 45 minutes early.

Those incidents led to tougher security, including the controversial measure of profiling visitors at the entrance gates. Security guards were trained to look for “known indicators” of gang membership and to turn away people with such affiliations. But the practice drew charges of racism after guards stopped nine black members of a Christian youth organization because of their clothes.

Since then the park has been sued three times over the policy. Two of those suits were settled for small sums, and one is still pending.

Despite criticism of their techniques, Rabjohn said guards turn away would-be patrons every day “if they meet a specific profile and have a propensity for wrongdoing inside the park.”

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“We take this very seriously,” she said. “We have to be very aggressive about screening at our gate.”

If attendance is any measure of visitors’ perception of safety at Magic Mountain, park officials have succeeded in combating the negative publicity. Spring break revelers and balmy weather Thursday combined to give the amusement park its highest attendance this year, executives said, but they refused to give figures, saying attendance is always confidential.

Because of law enforcement attention given the shooting, “This is probably the safest day to come,” said Geri Eberle, 45, of Cincinnati. Eberle came to the park with her daughter, granddaughter and three friends. “Plus, this was the only day we could come.”


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