Police say Disney hid evidence of fatal accident

THE VIOLENT death of a tourist at Disneyland is never going to be good publicity. That might explain why officials at the southern California theme park have been oozing reassurance ever since a metal cleat flew out of a wall on Christmas Eve and hit two visitors from Washington state in the head, killing one and seriously injuring the other.

Disney officials insist they are co-operating fully with the authorities to investigate the cause of the accident, which happened at the mooring bay of the sailing ship Columbia. This is only the ninth death in 43 years, they add, in which time more than 400 million people have visited the park safely.

Not everyone has been reassured by the behaviour of Disney and the local Anaheim police, however. Several seasoned police officers have asked why Disneyland officials took it upon themselves to clean up the accident site before the police arrived, why the police did not turn up for three hours, and why they then spent another hour and a half interviewing park officials before taking a look at the scene themselves.

Reacting to an initial report by the Anaheim police, released late last week, officers with experience of other theme parks have argued that an accident involving a theme park worker - as was the case - raises the possibility of manslaughter charges and requires the immediate presence of police officers on the scene. "You're taking control of the situation. You're not allowing them to spoon-feed you," Sergeant Anton Morec of the Santa Clara police, which recently investigated a death at Paramount's Great America park near San Francisco, told the Los Angeles Times. "Maybe Anaheim has a special relationship with Disney. Maybe they trust their security. Obviously, there's a comfort zone."

Disney insists it did nothing wrong by cleaning up before the police arrived. "It was shocking and disturbing for the other guests," said the director of communications, Ray Gomes. "As far as we were concerned this was an industrial accident. There was no question of a crime being committed."

The episode has fuelled long-standing criticisms that Disney's protectiveness of its theme parks verges on obsessive secrecy. In past incidents at Disneyworld, Florida, the company has successfully resisted pressure to let police interview its employees or examine broadcast transcripts of its in-house security team.

When an 18-year-old man was killed in 1994 in a car chase with Disney security officials, the Florida Highway Patrol's investigator complained Disney "would only release the information that wouldn't hurt them". An attempt by the family to sue Disney for more informationfailed when a local judge defended the company's right to run its own law enforcement operation on its property.

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