Heard It Through the Grapevine
Disneyland never notified police about the Christmas Eve accident on the Columbia sailing-ship attraction that ultimately claimed the life of a Washington man and injured his wife and a park employee, The Orange County Register reported on Jan. 12. It was paramedics who gave the cops a courtesy call, and by the time officers arrived at the park-security office nearly an hour after the 10:40 a.m. mishap, Disneyland personnel had already cleaned up the bloody scene and removed key evidence, Anaheim police chief Randall Gaston reportedly said. The first police investigator did not arrive at the Columbia dock until four and a half hours after the accident, in which a rope tore a metal cleat off the ship and hurtled it into the crowd, where it hit Luan Phi Dawson in the head; the 33-year-old died two days later. Gaston originally defended his officers' lax response but later-without faulting his department or Disneyland -said he would urge the park to leave major accident scenes alone until police arrive to secure such areas. That assumes the cops will know there's a major accident scene to secure.
EVERYTHING'S FINE; STOP ASKING Intense publicity over police handling of the Columbia accident caused the Anaheim city manager to demand a report. So who whipped up said report and quietly handed it to the City Council on Jan. 12? None other than Chief Gaston. Council members, who refused to criticize police or the theme park, raised no questions about the report-but did praise the department for its initial response (Disneyland can do no wrong) and for creating a new policy that runs completely counter to the initial response (Disneyland wouldn't know a crime scene if it came with bright-yellow POLICE CRIME SCENE tape). To underscore Anaheim's disgust with the whole damn thing, officials on Jan. 14 reportedly said they are tired of talking about the city's role in the fatal accident and that all interviews and information requests will be funneled through a designated city spokesman. "Do you want all 2,000 employees available to The Orange County Register on this matter?" Mayor Tom Daly reportedly asked a Reg reporter (readers weren't let in on an answer). "Then we'll ask the taxpayers of Anaheim what they think of it." Do you suppose Daly applies this litmus test to all issues before the council? At the same meeting, the council reportedly directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance repealing Anaheim's campaign-reform law, which limits contributions to $1,000 per person. Will the council ask the taxpayers of Anaheim what they think of scrapping the 6-year-old law? Designated flack Bret Colson reportedly justified muzzling city staff by saying, "It would be a different story if hundreds of people were storming City Hall, but they're not." Will the council rule that since no one is storming City Hall over campaign reform or other thorny issues, it can do as it pleases? Who do they think they are? Disneyland?
SINGING A NEW TUNE Among the revelations to come out of the Dec. 24 Disneyland tragedy was the fact that attractions at major theme parks are not subject to state inspection and that Disney and Knott's Berry Farm officials in years past have played roles-usually behind-the-scenes-in killing proposed legislation in Sacramento that would have subjected the parks to such scrutiny. But all that apparently changed in the wake of the first fatality in Disney's 40-some-odd-year history where the park-and not negligence on the part of a guest-solely caused a death. "We are open to legislation that would address the issue of regulation and assure safety at theme parks," Disneyland spokesman Ray Gomez reportedly about-faced on Jan. 14. Knott's officials had previously seconded that emotion. Ironically, a day before Disney's change of heart, a state Assembly report showed that more people die in theme- and amusement-park ride accidents in California than any other state.
HARRISS POLL Cynthia Harriss was named the new top Disneyland executive on Jan. 14. The Laguna Beach resident, who had been the park's chief of operations, rose through the ranks from the retail side, starting with the Disney Store chain. Paul Pressler, the executive she replaces, ran the store chain before becoming Disneyland's president and bringing Harriss with him. For years, Pressler was criticized for making retail the main focus at Disneyland-at the expense of park maintenance, the vaunted "Disney experience" and (as a recent Weekly story argued) ride safety. Pressler, who now heads all Disney theme parks and resorts worldwide, is considered one of Harriss' biggest allies. It is a small world after all.
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