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Sheriff's Dept. Places Blame in Magic Mountain Melee

May 14, 1993|JONATHAN GAW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The violence at Six Flags Magic Mountain last month was caused by a "devil's brew" of bad planning by the park, possible gang activity, release of tension over long-awaited verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial and the draw of a popular rap group, a report by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department concludes.

The department's costs for the hours-long melee was $285,717, according to the seven-page report signed by Sheriff Sherman Block.

The report states that the Valencia amusement park's ticketing and entertainment policies contributed to the incident. It also says, however, that the disturbance was "probably gang related."

Members of the board of supervisors had requested the report to determine who was responsible for the April 17 incident, which caused 60 injuries, resulted in several surrounding businesses being ransacked, backed up traffic along Interstate 5 for four miles and required help from hundreds of deputies and California Highway Patrol officers.

Supervisor Ed Edelman had expressed interest in either billing Magic Mountain for the county's costs or developing a type of bond system to compensate the county in the event of future outbreaks of violence.

Neither Edelman nor Supervisor Michael Antonovich, whose district includes Magic Mountain, was available for comment Thursday.

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Jill Klajic, who was at Magic Mountain the Saturday night of the violence, said Thursday that the park should not escape responsibility for the melee.

"It was their property, their event and if they were not aware that they were going to have 30,000 unsupervised children in their park, then something was wrong somewhere," she said.

"The children and young people involved were definitely responsible also," Klajic said. "But I think that Magic Mountain is the responsible party because they were the adults and they had planned the activity, and when you plan activities you have to take into account all situations."

Two waves of violence hit the park that Saturday, one in the afternoon and one at night. The outbreaks were "a devil's brew of events and circumstances," the report states.

The incident was the same day as the verdicts in the federal trial of four Los Angeles police officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King. Two of the four were convicted.

Also, the park had advertised special events for that weekend, including performances by two popular rap artists--TLC and Paperboy.

"The combination of good weather, a much-relieved community and a hit concert group understandably provided the impetus for tens of thousands of young people to leave a heavily policed urban area for a suburban theme park," the report said.

"However, because the park had sold season tickets, discount tickets, and offered regular purchase-at-the-gate tickets, there were far more Magic Mountain-bound visitors than there was space inside the park," the report said.

Park officials deny that their ticketing policies were even partly to blame and that "it was an isolated incident relating to the concert," said Bonnie Rabjohn, spokeswoman for Magic Mountain. The park has laid sole blame for the melee on the type of entertainment that evening and banned rap groups from performing there.

But the report faulted Magic Mountain officials for telling sheriff's deputies at 11:50 a.m. that they would close the park to further admissions at 1 p.m., but then "unilaterally and without warning to law enforcement" closing the park at 12:15 p.m.

"At 1 p.m., we would have been prepared. At 12:15 p.m., we were not," said Lt. Marv Dixon of the Santa Clarita sheriff's station. "It's like thinking you have 15 minutes in a game to score a touchdown, and then you find out you're running on two minutes."

At the time the park closed, Dixon said, there were only 12 deputies on the scene. The report said 40 more deputies, part of the department's extra mobilization because of the verdicts, responded shortly afterward.

Between 500 and 1,500 ticket holders were just outside the admissions gate when the park closed, the report said, while hundreds more people were parked on the streets outside the park and walking toward the entrance.

At 2:17 p.m., "gunshot-sounding reports" rang out and the crowd panicked, the report said. "It was sheer pandemonium."

The report said 10 to 15 young men attacked a Wendy's Restaurant near Magic Mountain, breaking windows and stealing cash from registers, and then moving on to adjacent businesses.

Several minutes later, the report said, about 40 to 50 young men attacked a Mobil Oil gas station and a McDonald's restaurant on Lyons Avenue, several miles from Magic Mountain.

In all, 380 deputies and highway patrol officers spent several hours untangling traffic, guiding people out of the park and establishing order, the report said.

Later that evening, however, violence erupted again, this time inside the park.

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