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Disneyland Workers: Ride Had Odd Noise

Operators said the coaster was clanking and that they planned to take it off line, a report says. No criminal negligence is found.

October 03, 2003|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

Disneyland workers noticed an unusual clanking sound at least 30 minutes before a train on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad crashed last month -- and had decided to pull it out of service on the next trip when the fatal accident occurred, according to police reports released Thursday.

The crash killed a 22-year-old Gardena man and injured 10 other riders.

Anaheim police officials said Thursday that they have closed their investigation after finding no criminal culpability or criminal negligence; a state probe into the cause continues.

"We have concluded that there was nothing criminal in nature that caused this to happen," such as sabotage by a disgruntled employee or outsider, Sgt. Rick Martinez said.

Disney declined to discuss the report.

"We continue to work with the authorities and their investigation," said Leslie Goodman, senior vice president of strategic communications for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. "It would be inappropriate for us to comment or speculate in light of that investigation."

Though police said they could reopen their case if new evidence is found, Santa Ana attorney Wylie Aitken, who represents the family of victim Marcelo Torres, said it is premature for them to rule out a crime until the state investigation is complete.

"Until such time as we determine what happened in that tunnel and what caused that train to derail or come apart or whatever happened, it seems inappropriate to close an investigation," Aitken said.

Anaheim police officials released the 66-page report Thursday afternoon, but officials blacked out much of the information, citing provisions in the law that allow them to withhold information about victims and witnesses.

In a more complete portion of the police report obtained by The Times from another source, Disneyland employees told police the train was making a "weird sound" described as a "metallic clanking" that was "out of the ordinary."

On the day of the accident, one employee said that about 30 to 45 minutes elapsed from the time he first heard it to the time of the accident.

An employee told police he intended to take the train out of service because "it did not sound quite right."

"He described the noise as a 'clack,' " the police report said. "He said it wasn't very loud or very alarming, but he stated that it did not sound right so he decided they should take the train off the next time around. He said the train never made it back around for them to remove it from operation."

Another employee said she arrived at work at 11 a.m. and took a "ride-through" on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as part of a maintenance routine. Toward the end of the ride, she noticed a noise that seemed to be coming from a wheel on the front of the train.

It is still unclear exactly how the train crashed. State officials said the cause appears to be mechanical failure, but it could be weeks before their findings are released.

According to the Anaheim police report, an employee told detectives that the locomotive, which does not pull the train, was detached from the rest of the cars.

The locomotive was missing a rear wheel assembly.

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