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Witnesses: Disney Workers Wouldn't Let Them Aid Boy

Bystanders told to stay put despite father's repeated pleas, but rushed to help when crew left. Park says staff followed policy.

September 29, 2000|KIMI YOSHINO and JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Bystanders who rushed to the aid of 4-year-old Brandon Zucker scrambled over a ride gate, ignoring the instructions of Disneyland employees in order to help the trapped boy, two witnesses said.

The little boy remained in critical condition Thursday at UCI Medical Center in Orange, after he toppled Friday evening from his vehicle in the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin and was caught under the following car.

Brandon's father, David Zucker, ran out from the interior of the ride three times, pleading for help, one witness said.

"He said to the crowd: 'Please help! My son is going to die!' " recounted Frank Leon of San Bernardino, who said he was first in line and eagerly anticipating taking his 2-year-old daughter on the ride when Zucker came running out.

Leon and another park guest, Teresa Reed of Redmond, Ore., revealed details of the harrowing first moments after the accident. Investigators said they have not yet determined what caused the child to fall from the open side of the moving car. The ride remained closed Thursday.

Reed was just finishing her ride, along with her husband and their two children, and Leon was waiting to board, when David Zucker ran out of the ride's dark interior for the first time, screaming that employees should stop the ride because his son was trapped and was being dragged along.

The ride stopped, Leon said, though it remains unclear whether the workers stopped it or it shut down automatically.

At that point, Zucker ran back into the ride, the witnesses said. A few moments later, he ran out again, yelling for help in freeing his boy.

"He asked the crowd. He said 'Come help!' " Leon said. "Disneyland employees said, 'No, stay where you're at.' "

The guests and the ride operators stayed at the front, both witnesses said, while Zucker ran back inside. A little while later, they said, he emerged again, rattling the fence and screaming.

Reed said Zucker was "panicking. [Disney employees] were telling him to 'Settle down, sir.' "

According to Leon, at that point the workers walked away, although he didn't know where. With the workers no longer holding them back, he said, he jumped over the fence, along with his wife, who is a nursing student, and their daughter. Several other guests did the same, he said.

Disney officials said employees followed all the park regulations.

"They have a special set of procedures that they have to follow in an emergency and our cast members followed those procedures," said Ray Gomez, Disneyland spokesman.

Gomez added that he could not comment further on what those procedures were because the accident remains under investigation.

Both witnesses said that when they arrived at the accident scene, they saw no Disneyland employees. Gomez would not comment on whether workers were inside at the time.

Park Declines to Detail Emergency Procedures

The lights, normally dimmed during the ride, were turned on. Brandon was folded underneath the car "in a ball," Leon said.

"It was the most horrible thing I've ever seen," he said.

David Zucker and several other men were trying unsuccessfully to lift the machine off the boy. Brandon's mother, Victoria Zucker, was sobbing uncontrollably, while Brandon's grandmother and brother Nicholas, 6, stood nearby. The family is from Canyon Country, in northern Los Angeles County.

"We tried to lift it and there was no lifting it," Leon said. "So I put my hands around his upper body and gave him a little nudge. . . . He couldn't move."

His wife and Reed, a medical assistant, tried to feel for a pulse, but otherwise could do nothing to help Brandon. At first, his wife detected a weak pulse, Leon said, but then it stopped.

Reed said she felt similarly helpless.

"You couldn't move him at all. He was smashed in there," she said.

The 45-pound boy suffered a torn liver, spleen and diaphragm, a collapsed left lung and a fractured pelvis. Friends of the family have set up a fund to cover his medical expenses.

Leon stayed until Disney maintenance workers and paramedics arrived. At that point, guests were asked to leave and the boy was extricated.

Reed said she has been having trouble sleeping since the accident, and voiced criticism of the park's workers.

"They were trying to deal with the public, instead of what was going on back there," Reed said.

Leon said he and his wife have been haunted by the accident.

The couple had annual passes to Disneyland, he said, and had visited the park seven or eight times since August. After the accident, he said, he turned the passes in and was reimbursed. The park has called him several times, he said, but he has not returned the calls.

"It shook me up pretty bad," he said. "I know the expression of your life passing before your eyes. It wasn't my life. It was my daughter's life, because I saw her underneath the machine."

Donations to Brandon Zucker's medical fund can be made at any Washington Mutual branch or via check, payable to "The Family of Brandon Zucker," sent to Washington Mutual, Attn: Family of Brandon Zucker. 910 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, CA 92804. Account number: 383-307-457-3.

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Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.

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