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Coaster Victim's Parents Question Reopening of Ride

Disney officials say safety changes are in place. Family wants more answers.

March 13, 2004|Claire Luna | Times Staff Writer

Two days after Disneyland reopened a roller coaster on which a man was killed last fall, his parents complained that the park has not done enough to show the ride is safe.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad reopened Wednesday after state inspectors gave it final clearance. State officials concluded after a three-month investigation that faulty maintenance caused the Sept. 5 collision that killed 22-year-old Marcelo Torres of Gardena and injured 10 others.

In a news conference at their attorney's office in Santa Ana on Friday, Torres' parents said they are not convinced that the park's new safety measures -- including retraining ride operators and mechanics -- will prevent crashes.

"It might have been too soon," Jaime Torres said. "We need answers for why this happened and what exactly has been done so no other families will have to suffer through this."

Disney officials said before the ride reopened that in addition to retraining employees, a new policy details what ride operators should do if they hear an unusual noise.

In interviews with police and state investigators after the September crash, ride workers said they heard a strange clanking at least 30 minutes before the accident, but continued running the coaster.

Company officials said Friday that while they understand the family's anguish, all necessary changes were made to the ride before it started running again.

"The attraction reopened after it was recertified by the state as being safe for operation, and after verification that all corrective actions and retraining had been fully completed," said Disneyland spokeswoman Sondra Haley.

Torres' parents have not filed a lawsuit against the company. Their lawyer, Wylie Aitken, said his office is still completing its investigation of the incident and determining how park procedures may have contributed to the crash.

"We're seeing if they can provide that information without pursuing any formal legal action," Aitken said.

During the conference, Carmen Torres clutched to her chest a photo collage depicting her son at various ages: at 18 months in a striped blue romper, posing in a soccer uniform at 7, and grinning widely in a candid shot taken three months before his death.

She and her husband learned of the ride reopening from their attorney, who in turn was informed Wednesday by a newspaper reporter. Knowing that the ride was running again triggered a flood of emotions for the family, Jaime Torres said.

"We are trying to move on. We are trying to close the wounds," he said. "This was a setback."

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