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Train of Thought

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Train of Thought

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Like many other Disneyana webmasters and news organizations out there, I received this e-mail late last week:


It has been only six months since our son, Marcelo, died on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland. A death caused by faulty maintenance, lack of safety procedures, lack of training, cost cutting measures and very serious safety violations that could have been prevented.

Only six months ago, we had Marcelo with us here, with his smile, his dreams, his plans and ambitions. Hopefully, people will not forget that this ride, the very same ride where the state investigators found a series of safety violations, is the one that killed our twenty two year old son. Our son suffered a horrible death in being crushed on his head and chest by the locomotive of that train causing broken ribs and massive internal bleeding.

Our son died at a place where you go to have fun and be happy, where you are supposed to feel safe. Our son indeed went to Disneyland for fun, with some friends, but he never came back to us. SAFETY?...Disneyland was not a safe place to go.

Now, Disneyland has decided to re-open Big Thunder Mountain and it has been all over the news. Business as usual...as we try to go on with our lives....but, we can't stop thinking "Why"? Why didn't they stop the train when it was making unusual clacking noise that Friday morning? How can work be signed off without being performed? It is unthinkable that Disneyland didn't even train its employees to maintain and stop the ride when they noticed unusual noises coming out of the train that day and days before. Why does the State need to order Disneyland to retrain its entire staff?

You may not understand the horrible pain that we are going through, the horrible pain of losing our son so tragically. The re-opening of this ride so quickly has only re-opened the wounds we have been trying to close over the past six months. Life is not always fair but you had the power to prevent this.

The life of Marcelo would start like a story of Walt Disney "Once upon a time, Marcelo was a happy boy that grew up in a happy family." Marcelo was always happy, quiet and loving. Marcelo always had kind words for other people, speaking of peace, his dreams and his plans ahead of him. He is not here anymore and we will never be the same again without him. Our families life has changed forever and we will now go through our whole lives with the emptiness of not having our son. You may not know how it is for a mother to feel the pain of not having her son on a daily basis. To cry everyday, feel the desperation of not having him. I want to see Marcelo's smile again, to hug him, and listen to his voice and laughter, see his beautiful smile. We look for answers so no other family need suffer like this.

You have re-opened that ride, where our son was killed, and we are only left with his pictures, beautiful memories of our life that now goes on without our beloved "Mars."

Jaime and Carmen Torres

Now ... Where this all gets truly (and cruelly) ironic is that I actually found out that I had received this e-mail from the Torres family while I was standing in line for Big Thunder Mountain Railway. Last Friday night as I was touring Disneyland, I noticed that this Frontierland attraction was up and running again. So I decided to check the thing out. See if there had been any obvious changes to the ride since last September's accident.

And then -- as I was standing in the queue under Rainbow Ridge -- Nancy gave me a call on the cel phone and read me that e-mail from the Torres family. And I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

I mean -- here I was -- standing in line to board this Frontierland favorite. Just like (I'm sure) Marcelo and his buddies did back on September 5th.

Only Torres and his friends were out to have a little innocent fun. Me? I was looking for a story. And -- sadly -- I found one.

For -- not five seconds after our train pulled out of the station and headed into that first tunnel -- some idiot two rows up screams: "We're all going to die."

And that's when I realized that maybe the Torres family was right. Maybe it really is a little too soon for Disneyland to be re-opening this attraction.

Now I can already hear some of you cynics out there saying: "Well, what do you want, Jim? For Disneyland to tear out of this attraction? To have the company shut down this attraction forever?"

Well, no ...

But -- at the same time -- doesn't six months seem like an awfully short interval? I mean, when 4-year-old Brandon Zucker was injured while riding "Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin" back in September of 2000, Disney kept that Mickey's Toontown attraction shuttered for nearly a year. Partially to retool the ride. But mostly as a gesture of respect toward Brandon's family.

Whereas Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain Railway re-opening after just six months ... I can't help but wonder how Space Mountain's unexpected closure in April 2003 plays into all this.

Could it be that the Walt Disney Company actually wanted to be respectful of the Torres' family wishes and not rush BTMR's re-opening? But -- at the same time -- given that the Anaheim theme park already had one of the theme park's signature thrill rides down for a lengthy rehab, could it be that the Mouse just felt that it had no choice but to hurry along the re-opening of Big Thunder Mountain?

Whatever the case ... Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain is now finally officially re-opened. And -- based on my ride late last Friday night -- this Frontierland favorite still packs plenty of thrills.

But -- that said -- I still think that it will be a while before I ride Big Thunder again.

Why for? Well, it's not because I now think that BTMR has suddenly become a bad ride. Far from it. I honestly believe that Big Thunder Mountain Railway remains a high water mark for Walt Disney Imagineering. That this nearly 24-year-old attraction still features some of the very best theming that (I think) the Imagineers have ever done.

But -- out of respect for the Torres family -- I think I'll take a pass on "... the wildest ride in the wilderness" for a while now. At least 'til the court case associated with Marcelo's untimely death has been resolved.

Maybe by then, there'll be fewer idiots riding this Disneyland attraction. Fewer insensitive people who try and get a cheap laugh out of this unfortunate tragedy by screaming things like "We're all gonna die!" just as the train leaves the station.

Doing something like that dishonors Marcelo's memory. And would (no doubt) bring additional needless pain to the Torres family.

So here's hoping that this sick joke soon falls out of favor ...

Your thoughts?

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