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Disneyland Rider's Room Becomes Refuge for Grieving

Marcelo Torres, who'd just turned 22, died in last week's accident at the theme park. 'It's difficult to grasp,' says his uncle.

September 08, 2003|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

The simplest things thrilled Marcelo Torres: hanging out with friends, listening to music, riding roller coasters.

On his birthday, Aug. 30, the young man received a cake and some gifts at a small party at his family's Gardena home, and family members said he never stopped smiling.

Six days later, the 22-year-old graphic artist died in a crash on Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride after the locomotive came uncoupled from the front passenger car, where Torres was sitting.

The Friday morning crash, which injured 10 others, is one of the worst accidents in the Anaheim amusement park's history. Investigators, who suspect mechanical failure, inspected the wreckage Saturday and will resume work today after a one-day hiatus.

On Sunday, Torres' family continued to mourn, drawn to his belongings in their grief. His 15-year-old brother, Jaime Torres Jr., sat with cousins in Marcelo's car, listening to his older brother's rock music tapes and lining the small gray sedan's windows with his brother's pink-and-blue business cards.

His parents, Jaime and Carmen, and his little brother sat in Marcelo's bedroom and talked. Sometimes they just rested, his mother and father taking turns to lie on their son's bed and think about him.

"It's difficult to grasp how someone who loved everyone and everything so much could be gone," said Torres' uncle, Ben Sanie, 48, of Torrance.

Services are pending, because the young man's body is still in the coroner's custody.

Although the parents aren't angry at the theme park, Sanie said, they want to know how the accident happened.

"They don't hate anyone, but they have grief about losing their son," Sanie said. "Everything is on hold right now, and we all need closure."

Called "Mars" by family members -- a diminutive for Marcelo -- the young man loved browsing the Internet for new things to do and places to hang out. Recently, when his uncle expressed concern that Marcelo wasn't focused enough on his business, the younger man gently dismissed the concerns.

"He told me, 'Don't worry. Things will happen when they're meant to, and not before,' " Sanie said, then looked down at the grass in the frontyard of the Torres' tidy yellow house.

"Those are the kinds of statements that come back to haunt you at a time like this."

Marcelo's parents spent most of their lives in Chile before coming to the United States. Marcelo was born in Hawthorne and reared in Palmdale.

The family moved back to Chile five years ago and lived in the mountainous farming town of Quillota, near Santiago. Marcelo finished high school in Chile, but he loved the United States and persuaded his parents to return to Southern California after just two years.

He graduated last spring from Brooks College in Long Beach with a degree in graphic arts and had recently started a home-based design business with his best friend, Vicente Gutierrez, 22, of Wilmington. The two men were seated next to each other on the ride Friday. Gutierrez was treated at UCI Medical Center in Orange for bruises and cuts on his face and broken ribs. He was released late Sunday.

The pair had gone to Disneyland when two female friends they knew from college were visiting from out of state. Big Thunder Mountain was their third ride of the day, Gutierrez said.

"You go to Disneyland to have fun," Sanie said, shaking his head as Torres' brother sobbed on the front porch. "You don't expect to die."

Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this report.

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