While Disney parks are among the most joyful and pleasant places on earth, there have also been a great number of tragic incidents, fights, sexual assaults and deaths at its theme parks in the United States. Any time you put a large number of people together with a large amount of machinery, things eventually go wrong.
1. Disneyland's First Death: In May of 1964, Disneyland had its first fatality. 15-year-old Mark Maples was injured and died three days after he stood up in the Matterhorn Bobsleds and fell out of the car. It was later reported that his restraint had been undone by his ride companion.
2. Hyperion Theater Death: On April 22, 2003, a stage technician fell 60 feet from a catwalk in the Hyperion Theater at Disney's California Adventure, prompting an investigation and fine by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA). The victim did not regain consciousness following the incident and died a month later.
3. The Measles Outbreak: In December 2014, a measles outbreak originated in Disneyland, resulting in 133 cases of the disease, including 40 in visitors to Disneyland between December 17 and 20. Most of these were unvaccinated children. The likely patient zero would have been an international traveler visiting the park from a country currently experiencing an outbreak. In total, at least 127 cases of measles have been directly traced to the Disneyland outbreak.
4. 1984 Matterhorn Death: On January 3, 1984, Dolly Young was killed when she was thrown from her Matterhorn Bobsled car, and struck by the next bobsled. A subsequent investigation found that her seat belt was not buckled, but because she was riding alone, it was never clear if she deliberately unfastened her belt or if it malfunctioned.
5. Big Thunder Mountain Foot Incident: On March 10, 1998, a 5-year-old boy was seriously injured on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when his foot became wedged between the passenger car's running board and the edge of the platform. All of the toes on his left foot required amputation and Disneyland made major safety improvements to the ride.
6. Sailing Ship Columbia Incident: On December 24, 1998, a heavy metal cleat fastened to the hull of the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose and flew into the crowd, striking one employee and two park guests--one of whom subsequently died of a head injury. Disney was fined by OSHA and settled an eight figure lawsuit with the guest’s family.
7. It's a Small World Breakdown: On November 27, 2009, It’s a Small World broke down while a guest with quadriplegia was on the ride. The guest was stuck in the "Goodbye Room," unable to leave and forced to listen to the horrific earworm of the ride’s theme song for 30-40 minutes before he was finally evacuated. He sued Disney for not having adequate evacuation procedures for disabled guests, and in March 2013, he was awarded $8,000.
8. 1966 Grad Nite Death: Disney’s annual Grad Nite in June 1966 ?turned tragic when 19-year-old Thomas Guy Cleveland was killed trying sneak into the park by climbing onto the monorail track. Despite a security officer trying to warn him off, the man crossed the track, jumped onto a canopy beneath it and was struck by the train. Cleveland's body was dragged 30 to 40 feet down the track. The security guard in question later stated he had to "hose the kid off the underside."
9. Deaths on the PeopleMover: In August 1967, 17-year-old Ricky Lee Yama was killed while jumping between two moving PeopleMover cars as the ride was passing through a tunnel. As he jumped, he lost his balance and fell onto the track, where an oncoming train crushed him and dragged his body a few hundred feet. The attraction had only been open for one month at the time and much of the staff hadn’t been properly trained on it. 13 years later, an 18-year-old man was crushed and killed by the PeopleMover, again, after he fell while jumping between moving cars.
10. Stuntman Dies on Captain Jack's Tutorial: On August 6, 2009, a 47-year-old cast member named Mark Priest was playing the role of a pirate in the "Captain Jack's Pirate Tutorial" show when he slipped on a puddle on the stage and hit his head on a wall. Priest suffered a broken vertebra in his neck and severe lacerations on his head that required 55 stitches. He died August 10th due to complications from the head injury.
11. Drowning in Rivers of America: In June 1973, 18-year-old Bogden Delaurot drowned trying to swim across the "Rivers of America,” an artificial river that surrounds Tom Sawyer’s Island. He and his 10-year-old brother had stayed on the island past closing time, and decided to swim across the river to get back - even though the younger brother did not know how to swim. Bogden attempted to carry his brother on his back and drowned halfway across. Rivers of America claimed another victim on June 4, 1983, when Phillip Straughan drowned while trying to pilot a rubber emergency boat from Tom Sawyer's Island. He and a friend had stolen the raft from a restricted area of the island during Disneyland's annual Grad Nite, and the raft flipped over.
12. Space Mountain Death: On August 14, 1979, a 31-year-old woman became ill after riding Space Mountain, and she was unable to exit the vehicle. Although employees told her to stay seated while the vehicle was removed from the track, other ride operators did not realize that her vehicle was supposed to be removed and sent it through a second time. She was semi-conscious after the second ride, went into a coma and died one week later. The coroner's report attributed the death to natural causes and a subsequent lawsuit against the park was dismissed.
13. Death on Big Thunder Mountain: 22-year-old visitor Marcelo Torres died on September 5, 2003 after suffering severe blunt force trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a catastrophic derailment of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Ten other riders were also injured, and the cause of the accident was determined to be improper maintenance. Torres’s family won a substantial settlement from Disney several years later.
14. It's a Small World... for Groping: Disneyland might be the happiest place on earth, but that doesn’t mean some employees don’t spread their happiness a little too far. In 1976, a woman sued Disney for $150,000, claiming that one of the Three Little Pigs at It's a Small World had grabbed and fondled her. But the Mouse House has some shrewd lawyers, who presented her with a photo of the costume the supposed groper had worn--and which had only inoperable stub arms. The suit was dropped.
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