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Disneyland Reopens Ride That Injured Boy

Park: Cars now have doors and sensor-equipped bumpers. State officials and activist praise the changes.

July 13, 2001|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly 10 months after a preschooler was trapped beneath the ride and severely brain-damaged, Disneyland reopened its vastly overhauled Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin on Thursday afternoon.

While saying the ride was safe from the start, the amusement park went beyond state orders to fix problem areas. The state-ordered additions include automatic latching doors and a sensor-equipped bumper that sits 2 1/2 inches off the ground so riders cannot be trapped underneath. Sensors automatically stop the entire ride within about two seconds of the bumper touching an object and sound an alarm that alerts ride operators to where the problem arose, officials said.

Disneyland also raised the panels on the sides and back of the cars and added caution labels, ride signs and an audio warning to drive home the safety messages.

"The bottom line is that they met the specifications that we outlined in our request, they worked very cooperatively with us and we are very pleased with the outcome," said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health. His agency has regulatory powers over fixed amusement-park rides under a 1999 law.

The ride takes spinning "taxicabs" through scenes from the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

"We're very pleased. We came up with a lot of new features that we incorporated into the theming," said Greg Hale, vice president of design, engineering and regulatory compliance for Walt Disney World Co. For example, the higher sides and backs on the cars were made to look like the folded-down tops of convertibles.

"We also remain confident that the original design was a safe design," Hale said.

At the theme park Thursday, long lines formed to go on the redesigned ride.

"I never knew it was closed," said Maggie Alvarez, who was on vacation from New Mexico with her husband and two children. "I remember when they first opened it. I went on it then, and it was fun."

Veronica Luna, visiting from Los Angeles with her four children, had forgotten about the accident and, when reminded, decided not to board the ride. "We don't have to go on here," she said, steering her family away.

But George Steward of La Puente made a point of taking his 4-year-old son on the ride, insisting that Disneyland, which he has been visiting since childhood, could not have been at fault in the accident. "I feel very safe here," he said. Later, leaving the ride, he said he felt even safer. "It was excellent," he said. "I saw nothing to be concerned about. They've done some modifications, and I'm sure it could never happen again."

There are no immediate plans to make changes to rides with similarly designed cars at the Anaheim park or to the Roger Rabbit attraction at Tokyo Disneyland. "No one solution fits all. Every attraction is unique," said Disneyland engineering director Rich Langhorst.

The ride closed after a Sept. 22 accident critically injured Brandon Zucker, formerly of Santa Clarita. Brandon, who was 4 1/2 at the time, was seated closest to the car's cutout entryway when he fell out and was pinned beneath the following car. He was dragged about 10 feet before the ride stopped automatically, and he remained trapped under the heavy vehicle for about 10 minutes before emergency crews could free him.

Brandon suffered irreversible brain damage, a collapsed lung, torn liver, spleen and diaphragm and a fractured pelvis. He remains at the HealthBridge Children's Rehabilitation Hospital in Orange, dependent on a feeding tube and unable to walk or talk.

In recent months, he has shown slight improvement, swallowing sugary frosting and tiny bites of pudding. During a visit Thursday, his big brown eyes showed occasional glimmers of babylike recognition of his mother and father, and he giggled and smiled when his parents made funny noises or nuzzled his face. But he remains just a shadow of the once-playful boy who used to zoom around on his scooter and go fishing with his 7-year-old brother Nicholas.

The Zuckers declined to comment Thursday, but one of their attorneys, Amy Fisch Solomon, said: "We are all very much in favor of making these rides safer and we applaud that, but it doesn't help put Brandon back together. I just hope that Disney takes as much care in correcting problems on their other rides."

Safety advocate Kathy Fackler praised the changes, saying this first major accident investigation under the state's new amusement park regulations show that the law works: The state and Disneyland did the right thing.

"This is the best possible outcome to a terrible situation," said Fackler, whose son suffered a foot injury on a Disneyland ride three years ago. "Everybody is moving on--as they should. But the Zuckers will never move on."

The state issued a report in late December finding that Brandon was seated in the wrong spot in the car and that the lap bar may not have been properly lowered. There was no evidence that the boy might have been misbehaving.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health ordered Disney to retrain employees on loading procedure and to take corrective action in the ride's design before it could be cleared to open. One additional employee will help run the attraction, bringing the total to five. The Zuckers have sued Disneyland, seeking unspecified damages and claiming the park was negligent. The park disputed the state's findings and denied wrongdoing.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Safer Car

Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin reopened Thursday after Disneyland made state-ordered changes to the ride following a September accident that critically injured a 4-year-old boy. The alterations:

*

Added raised panel on back and sides

Added electronically triggered guard to stop vehicle when touched

Added caution signs on steering wheel and audio warnings in line

Added locking entryway door

*

Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD Los Angeles Times

* Source: Disneyland; California Division of Occupational Safety and Health

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