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15 Hurt on Roller Coaster at Disney’s California Adventure

Times Staff Writers

Fifteen people suffered minor injuries Friday evening when a roller-coaster train rear-ended a second train that was stopped on the tracks at Disney’s California Adventure, marking the first significant accident at the Anaheim theme park.

The crash occurred about 6:39 p.m. on the California Screamin’ ride, a popular roller coaster designed to propel riders through a silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head. The trains, each carrying 24 passengers, were about to reach the end of the ride, at a point where both vehicles were supposed to stop.

The train in the front stopped, but the rear train hit the first vehicle, said John Nicoletti, a spokesman for the city of Anaheim. Officials said they didn’t know why the rear train malfunctioned, but investigators from Cal/OSHA were examining the incident.

Nicoletti said the impact of the crash appeared to be minor. None of the 15 people taken to the hospital -- 13 adults and two minors -- appeared to have serious injuries, he said.

“There was not a great amount of damage to the cars. It was like a fender-bender,” he said. “It does not appear that the ride was going very fast.”

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The accident occurred at the height of the summer tourist season and as California Adventure’s sister park, Disneyland, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

About 100 firefighters from Anaheim and surrounding cities descended on the theme park, along with 18 ambulances. Most of the passengers were able to get out of their trains and walk to safety on their own using the roller coaster’s catwalk. Eight passengers were on a higher point on the ride, with their car leaning at a 45-degree angle, and could not get to the catwalks, so firefighters helped them descend 15 feet to the ground using ladders.

Some of the riders complained of neck and back pain, said Michael Simpson, dispatcher for Metronet, which covers the Anaheim Fire Department. Paramedics placed a neck brace on a rider and laid a second rider on a back brace, Nicoletti said.

California Screamin’ was billed by Disney as evoking “the great thrills of wooden roller coasters from days gone by.” It catapults riders from 0 to 55 mph in less than 5 seconds and has a 108-foot drop.

A Milwaukee surgeon sued Disney, saying he suffered whiplash and an ongoing neurological disorder while riding California Screamin’ in 2001. The doctor contended that a shoulder-harness restraint failed because it was not properly lubricated by Disney mechanics. But an Orange County Superior Court jury last year sided with Disney, which said its maintenance procedures for California Screamin’ were safe and effective.

California Adventure is next to Disneyland, which has seen several high-profile accidents in the last few years.

In 2003, a 22-year-old man was killed by the derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster at Disneyland. The state blamed the accident on faulty maintenance.

The Big Thunder Mountain crash was the third major accident at Disneyland in the last six years in which ride maintenance has been an issue. A park visitor was killed in 1998 when he was hit by an iron cleat that a taut rope tore from the Columbia sailing ship. Two years later, nine passengers were injured on Space Mountain when a bolt broke on a wheel assembly.

In Southern California last year, 350 accidents at amusement parks were reported to the state, but none resulted in serious injury or death. But at Disney World in Florida earlier this summer, a 4-year-old boy died on a spaceship ride.

Friday’s accident did not appear to affect the rest of Disneyland or California Adventure. At 8 p.m., there was a long line to get in the park. Many visitors were unaware of the accident, although they did notice news helicopters hovering overhead. Security officials roped off the area near California Screamin’.

“We noticed the train wasn’t running,” said Michael Madrid, 38, who was visiting from Silver City, N.M., with his wife and 11-year-old son. “We didn’t hear anything. We thought it was stuck up there.”

The accident comes a month after the California Supreme Court toughened safety classifications for roller coasters in the state.

The court ruled that operators of roller coasters and similar attractions have the same duty to ensure safety as those who run buses, trains and other means of public transportation. The court majority ruled that theme park operators must use “the utmost care and diligence” for the safety of riders rather than mere “reasonable care.” Most states require operators of amusement rides to use only “reasonable care.”

The ruling is expected to make it easier for people who are injured on rides to prevail in lawsuits against amusement parks, though some theme park industry experts said it could prompt some operators to modify or remove some thrill rides.

Times staff writers David Haldane, Louis Sahagun, Kimi Yoshino and Dan Weikel contributed to this report.


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