Knott’s Berry Farm settles with victim of roller coaster accident

Knott’s Berry Farm has reached an undisclosed settlement with the family of a 12-year-old boy who was seriously injured when the Xcelerator roller coaster’s launch cable snapped during a 2009 accident.

Every moment of the harrowing September 2009 accident — from the initial thrill to the ensuing terror — was captured by an on-board video camera. It shows Kyle Wheeler sitting in the front row of Xcelerator when the roller coaster’s launch cable whips toward the riders and splits the fiberglass car in half.

The severed cable lashed Kyle’s left calf and sprayed debris in the face of his father, Russell, who was sitting next to his son.

Anita Wheeler watched helplessly from the ground as the 80-mph episode unfolded.

“I literally thought I had just watched my son and husband die in front of my eyes,” the mother from the Northern California town of Weaverville wrote in an online chat room shortly after the accident. “This whole experience has been terribly hard on my whole family. I am overwhelmed with emotion most days.”


Over the ensuing months, Kyle underwent multiple surgeries to repair muscle damage to his leg and graft skin over his injuries. The operations were followed by physical therapy to restore function to his left knee and ankle.

And while Kyle has fully recovered from the accident, according to Art Morgan, the family’s lawyer, the boy will need a $30,000 operation later in life to remove scar tissue. The family has accumulated more than $60,000 in medical bills so far, Morgan said.

An investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health found that the Xcelerator accident could have been prevented with proper maintenance, casting blame on the theme park and the ride manufacturer, Switzerland-based Intamin.

The report said the snapped cable exhibited “gross amounts of fatigue” and found that the force of the accident sheared off 18 of the 20 magnets on the bottom of the coaster cars used for launching and braking.

Knott’s reopened Xcelerator more than a year ago after making modifications required by the state report, theme park officials said.

“Safety is always our No. 1 concern,” said Knott’s spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey. “Our maintenance and ride operations crews work diligently to ensure rider safety.”