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State Urged to Move on Ride Safety Law

June 21, 2002|KIMI YOSHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO -- Tearful mothers of children killed or injured on amusement park rides urged state officials Thursday to speed up the process and finish regulations for a safety law that was passed nearly three years ago.

La Jolla mother Kathy Fackler, founder of the Saferparks advocacy group, criticized the state's political process and the powerful amusement park industry for the drawn-out process.

"If this state can't muster enough integrity to pull together a credible accident prevention system for thrill rides in less time than it took to win World War II, then we, as a culture, are surely doomed," Fackler said.

Fackler, whose son was injured in 1998 on a Disneyland roller coaster, vowed to be a watchdog over the process and bear witness on behalf of victims.

She rattled off a list: "Quimby Ghilotti, dead at age 18; David Fackler, amputee at age 5; Josh Smurphat, dead at age 12; Brandon Zucker, brain-damaged at age 4. Rocio Estrada, quadriplegic at age 17; Lori Mason-Larez, wife and mother of four, dead at age 40."

"That list will grow longer before the next public hearing," Fackler said.

From the audience, there were tears and sniffles as the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board listened to the four mothers who pleaded with board members to follow through with the law's intent and focus on accident prevention.

The law gives the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health authority over amusement parks. Since January 2000, parks have been reporting injuries and have been subject to accident investigations. This year the state will begin annual ride inspections.

Although parts of the law are in effect, the regulations that spell out the safety requirements and penalties for failing to comply have yet to be completed.

At Thursday's public hearing, the Standards Board met to consider the second of three sets of regulations for the law.

Board member Victoria Bradshaw said that despite the lengthy process, she sees progress. Both sides seem to be communicating and agreeing on more issues.

"We're trying to expedite what is a very cumbersome process for an end product that is not only effective but workable," Bradshaw said.

In many cases, the two sides of the amusement park safety issue have battled over technical wording. Thursday, there was little disagreement but debate again over language choices.

The most controversial area involved restricting certain people from getting on rides. The state asked parks to make special considerations for weight, size, children, physical disabilities, health conditions that affect rider safety and "apparent mental disability."

But park officials, who mostly submitted written comments, expressed concern about violating antidiscrimination laws. In a memo filed by the Walt Disney Co., officials said they could be sued if they use subjective judgments.

The state occupational safety division must respond to each concern before the regulations can be finalized and will seek a legal opinion whether their wording violates any laws, said Len Welsh, the division's special counsel.

For Victoria Zucker, mother of the boy who was brain-damaged on Disneyland's Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin, her talk before the Standards Board was part of a healing process; it was the first time she has spoken in an advocacy role since Brandon's accident in September 2000.

She traveled from Irvine to Sacramento for the hearing, bringing photographs of 6-year-old Brandon. She showed the board one picture taken at Disneyland, minutes before the accident. He is sitting next to his brother Nicholas on the Roger Rabbit ride. Both are wearing their Mickey Mouse ears and huge grins.

A second picture, taken hours later, shows Brandon in a hospital bed, bandaged, with tubes taped to his limbs and mouth.

"He can't speak. He can't talk. He can't walk," Victoria Zucker said. "I haven't heard a word from him since that night. I'm here to say I don't want anything like this to happen to another family."

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