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Family Excitement Preceded Tragedy on Disneyland Dock

Accident: When visitor suffered fatal blow and wife was injured, it was first trip there for son and grandson.

December 28, 1998|ELAINE GALE and JASON KANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They packed up the kids and the Christmas presents and boarded a plane for California to visit "The Happiest Place on Earth."

Luan Phi Dawson and Lieu Thuy Vuong of Duvall, Wash., were excited about the 10-day vacation to see family and take their son and grandson to Disneyland for the first time.

But elation turned to horror on Christmas Eve when the couple were critically injured after being struck in the head by a metal cleat that a rope tore from a tall ship at one of Disney's oldest attractions.

"They were very excited about going to Disneyland," said Darci Donovan, a neighbor of the couple's in Duvall. "There was a high excitement level. They had been planning the trip for a while."

Dawson, 33, a computer programmer for Microsoft Corp., was brain-dead for nearly 11 hours before he was removed from life support systems Saturday night, according to hospital officials. They said his body was kept on life support to allow an out-of-state relative to see him.

Dr. Richard Kim, a neurosurgeon at UCI Medical Center in Orange, where the couple were treated, said Dawson suffered severe injuries to the brain and to a major blood vessel in his head.

"Each of those on their own could have been enough to be fatal," said Kim during a news conference Sunday at the hospital.

An autopsy by the Orange County coroner's office showed that Dawson died from hemorrhaging in the brain and a severe skull fracture. The incident was ruled an accident, according to the coroner's office Sunday.

Vuong, 43, remained hospitalized Sunday in fair condition with cuts and bruises on the right side of her face, said hospital spokeswoman Kim Pine.

Vuong may suffer partial paralysis on that side of the face, and disfigurement, for which she required minor plastic surgery, said trauma surgeon Alexander DiStante.

The couple's relatives did not appear at the news conference but issued a brief statement thanking the public for "prayers and support," according to Pine. The family will probably plan a private service for Dawson, but there are no immediate plans, Pine said.

The third accident victim, Disneyland employee Christine Carpenter, 30, of Anaheim, remained hospitalized at Western Medical Center-Anaheim with serious leg and foot injuries.

Cal-OSHA will investigate the accident because an employee was hurt, but no state or county agency oversees the safety of rides at theme parks, according to state and local officials.

The accident occurred about 10:40 a.m. when the tall ship Columbia was docking. The cleat ripped from the boat and flew into a crowd, striking Dawson and his wife, officials said.

Disneyland officials have expressed sorrow for the family and said it will cooperate with state investigators.

In Washington state, Donovan, the couple's neighbor, said she is concerned for Vuong and family.

"It's a tragic thing for Lieu to be widowed and to have to raise a son by herself," she said. "She's a strong woman. We're hoping she has a speedy recovery."

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