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Order Sets Off Debate Over Theme Parks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state order requiring Disneyland to overhaul a ride that left a 4 1/2-year-old boy with severe brain damage is sparking debate over whether theme park regulations now being drafted should require safety improvements in similarly designed rides.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health on Friday called on Disneyland to add entryway closures and sensor-equipped guards around the base of cars on the Roger Rabbit Cartoon Spin.

The order came three months after preschooler Brandon Zucker fell from the ride and was dragged beneath a spinning simulated taxicab for about 10 feet before the ride automatically stopped.

Several other Disneyland rides also contain open entryways without doors, but the state has not required that those attractions be modified.

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The state is completing its first ever safety regulations for fixed theme parks. The current draft of the rules was written before regulators completed their probe of the Roger Rabbit accident and don’t require amusement parks to modify similar rides, said Len Welsh, the California safety agency’s special counsel.

But both Welsh and several vocal activists for tougher theme park safety expect a push for rules that require rides with no doors to be examined and possibly modified.

“I’ll be using this report,” said Kathy Fackler, a La Jolla mother whose son’s foot was crushed on Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1998.

“I’m nervous about any ride that allows a preschooler to spin around with only a single lap bar and with open sides.”

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Fackler, who was a leading advocate for the 1999 law creating the first state inspection program for fixed theme parks, said the state’s report on the Roger Rabbit ride will “help set a precedent.”

Welsh said it would be “a very big leap” to suggest that a ride is unsafe just because it’s similar to the Roger Rabbit attraction.

“It’s too hard to generalize,” he said.

But he predicted that concern over those design features will be “taken very seriously” when public comment is solicited on proposed regulations that are required under the theme park safety law.

Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety consultant who is working for the Zucker family attorney, said that in the wake of the report, similar rides at Disneyland should be examined to make sure they are safe.

Officials from Disneyland could not be reached for comment Saturday.


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