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Ride Was 'Factor' in Death at Park

Report: Autopsy of woman who died at Magic Mountain last month finds she had an aneurysm and heart disease.

July 28, 2001|ANNETTE KONDO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Fontana woman who died last month after boarding a Magic Mountain roller coaster suffered from hypertension-related heart disease and had a brain aneurysm that ruptured during the ride, according to an autopsy report released Friday.

The Goliath ride did not cause Pearl Santos' aneurysm to form, "but only caused a rupture of a preexisting, severe and fragile aneurysm," the report by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said.

It also said that while "the exact mechanisms of causing the aneurysm to rupture are not known . . . the stress/strain associated with the roller coaster ride probably was a factor."

In addition, the report said Santos, 28, had enlarged heart disease that was "probably due to hypertension [and] considered a contributing cause of death."

Except for the disclosure of Santos' heart condition, the report largely echoed the findings of the coroner's preliminary investigation. Its release was delayed in part because of toxicology tests, all of which were negative.

In a prepared statement, a Six Flags Magic Mountain executive said the report exonerates the ride.

"As we have said before, literally millions of people have safely ridden Goliath and we expect millions more to do the same," Del Holland, the company's general manager said in the statement.

But Barry Novack, attorney for the Santos family, said the report showed that the ride was a factor in Santos' June 2 death.

"In this particular case, apparently the ride dynamics caused the preexisting aneurysm that was asymptomatic and quiet to burst," Novack said.

Novack is representing clients in 11 lawsuits involving injuries and deaths across the country allegedly related to amusement parks. No suit has been filed in Santos' death. Her family declined to comment on the report.

Aneurysms occur at junctions of blood vessels, where the artery wall can be weaker. Some people are unaware they have aneurysms because they have no symptoms, said Dr. Martin Weiss, head of neurosurgery at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. And when aneurysms are smaller than half an inch, doctors sometimes don't recommend treatment.

Weiss added he did not know of any correlation between aneurysms and roller coasters. They can rupture in individuals who are asleep or during strenuous activity, he said.

The Goliath ride reaches speeds of 85 mph and features a 235-foot free fall. After Santos' death, the ride was shut down, inspected and reopened several hours later.

The roller coaster then was shut down for 10 days while state investigators tested it. When they concluded it was operating properly, the ride was reopened June 14.

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