The BLOG FLUME -- A Bad Day on the Mummy

Universal Orlando pulls out all the stops to say, "It wasn't our fault" after a guest death. Eisner's two-year exit plan is a no-go. Hong Kong tops off the new Disney park. And Georgia rattles some swords.

Written by J. Dana
Published: September 23, 2004 at 1:26 PM

[Editor's note: We kick off 'Persister,' our search for a new Blog Flume columnist, with the gentleman whose TPI column the Blog Flume replaced -- J. Dana. He's back, rested and ready with a busy news day.]

A Death in the Mummy's Tomb
Orlando Sentinel - Sept. 23, 2004
Theme Park Insider - Sept. 23, 2004

Disneyland's Thunder Mountain isn't the only theme park coaster having problems, it seems. Apopka, Florida's Jose Valadez, 39, this week succumbed to Imhotep's curse, literally, on Universal Orlando's Revenge of the Mummy-the Ride. The wheelchair-bound guest fell onto the tracks, hitting his head and apparently aggravating his already diseased liver condition. He died a day later at Orlando Regional Medical Center. He was trying to board the front-row of the ride when, apparently, he fell in front of the stopped vehicle and hit his head on the tracks.

But get this: Michael Rinehart, lead investigator for the Florida state Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection, said his agency probably would not conduct an independent investigation. In 2001 the major parks agreed to report hospital-visit injuries to this agency. Big deal. Disney and Universal routinely sweep this stuff under the rug. When's the last time we heard about them owning up to an accident and paying out. And what's up with the flimsy plastic "guard arm" to prevent this from happening? Did it give way? Universal assures us they are conducting their own internal investigation, even though they have already stated, "the ride did not malfunction." (Isn't that deciding the conclusion before conducting the investigation?) Valadez's wife, Paula, says she has no plans to sue. (Ignore that hacking sound, it's just me laughing up a lung). Every trial lawyer in the state has probably contacted this lady to "offer condolences." At $125 per hour, of course.

Topping off the Castle at Hong Kong Disneyland
Orlando Sentinel - Sept. 23, 2004

Hong Kong taxpayers can at long last see the results of their hard-earned money: the blue turret has been fitted-among much fanfare and Mickey Mouse partying, of course-atop Sleeping Beauty's Castle. The new park is set to open in either late 2005 or 2006 (in other words, they'll drop that drawbridge at the end of 2006). So, will this be a Euro Disney Flop or a Tokyo Disney success? I'm thinking it'll fall somewhere between, but more on the success side. Especially since Disney isn't actually ponying up the cash, and they're not relying on snobby French sensibilities for attendance.

Eisner May Only Sing One Verse of His Swan Song
LA Times - Sept. 23, 2004
The Star - Sept. 23, 2004

"The Walt Disney Co says it expects to announce a new chief executive by next June after a search that will include both inside and outside candidates to replace Michael Eisner, who is retiring in 2006." Hmmm, methinks Eisner's two-year plus planned lame-duck session didn't sit well with board members and investors. I love this line from the story, though: "'He will continue to be the CEO until such time the board determines it is appropriate for a new CEO to take office,' Mitchell said." I think the prevailing thought with board members is that it's appropriate to get the joker out of there before a full-scale mutiny forces their hand. When it comes to money and profits, no one's too big for the boot. Maybe Eisner and Dan Rather will share a boat into the sunset.

An Incredible Trailer
Yahoo! Movies

This is Disney's next, last hope of a successful movie year. Dropping mostly bombs on us so far this year (Around the World in 80 Days, the Alamo, etc.), Pixar's latest will surely be Disney's biggest film of the year. Look for theme park character meet-and-greets, along with super-hero Halloween costumes (even before the film opens). I still think the no-cuddly-animals thing might hurt this film. But what do I know?

Clive Barker Dreams Up Disney's Next Generation of Attractions
Jim Hill Media - Sept. 23, 2004

I'm sure we all remember thinking, "Huh?" when Disney put up $8 million for an un-written series of books by horror-meister Clive Barker (Was that a pin-headed thing to do?-darn puns) for development into films and theme park attractions. The central germ for this series is "Abarat, a magical realm composed of 25 islands. Each of the islands represents one hour out of the day, with the mysterious 25th island being where 'Time Outside of Time' supposedly exists." The books are coming, albeit slowly-but that matches Disney's usual theme park building schedule, so, I guess it's all on time.

New Theme Park (theme, not amusement) in Georgia
Access North - Sept. 23, 2004

Who'd a thunk that renaissance fairs were such big business in north Georgia? At $70 million, it doesn't look to compete for thrill-seekers, but this theme park will be a nice side visit for two groups of people: 1) Tourists driving I-75 towards Florida and 2.) theme park lovers who've tired of Six Flags over Georgia. Oh, and that third group of people: renaissance fanatics-"No swords allowed on the Log Flume, sir."

Cypress Garden is FINALLY in business again.
The Ledger - September 22, 2004

Closed last year, Central Florida's famed "first" theme park, Cypress Gardens, is set to open a new, improved alternative on Nov. 18. New owner Kent Buescher has rechristened the storied park as Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, and has installed new thrill rides (coasters) and is putting together a brand new water ski show. There's just one thing this guy hasn't put in, though, that can mean the difference between success or failure--an interstate. The Gardens' locale in an out-of-the-way spot in Winter Haven has made it a not-so-must-see attraction in years past. Buescher reinvigorated an amusement park in South Georgia, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt. For now, anyway. Good luck!

Want to comment on the job that J. Dana did today? We're keeping a running log of reader comments on the candidates here.

Readers' Opinions

From TH Creative on September 23, 2004 at 4:01 PM
J. Dana Writes: Disneyland's Thunder Mountain isn't the only theme park coaster having problems, it seems. Apopka, Florida's Jose Valadez, 39, this week succumbed to Imhotep's curse, literally, on Universal Orlando's Revenge of the Mummy-the Ride.

I Respond: Seems rather tasteless to report a death with such a flippant comment. TPI has won a reputation for taking theme park safety seriously. The “Imhotep’s curse” remark seems more than a bit insensitive.

From Carey Lynn Holtsclaw on September 23, 2004 at 4:12 PM
Georgia seems to be very popular with theme park developers lately.

Steamboat City is also coming to southern Georgia in a few years.

From J. Dana on September 23, 2004 at 4:15 PM
Carey, I agree with you. And I think it makes great sense. Georgia is a moderately temperate climate, especially South Georgia. South Georgia has lots and lots of space (miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles). And Georgia is kinda like the funnel through which all Florida traffic must flow. So, why not nab those tourists off of both I-75 and I-95, make some money off them, then send them on their way to Orlando and the great beyond. And Georgia usually doesn't get the wrath of hurricanes to the extent that Florida does. Add to that fact that chambers of commerce and economic development agencies across Georgia see tourism as the number one industry they're trying to enhance (I worked for a Georgia chamber of commerce in the late 90s), and you've got an environment ripe for devolopment. Disney once eyed Chattanooga/North Georgia as a site for its proposed American History park. That fell through, but the region still beckons. Especially with Atlanta's Hartsfield being the busiest airport in the country (battling it out with O'Hare in Chicago).

And TH Creative, about my courseness about the death: I went back and forth about that, wondering if it was too irreverent or not. My conclusion: at least I didn't say "The Mummy puts the wraps on another one." Now THAT would have been over the line.

From TH Creative on September 23, 2004 at 4:29 PM
It wasn't a matter "courseness." It was a matter of necessity. Had the comment been omitted it would not have udermined the purpose of your message. Since it wasn't omitted it makes it look like you were making light of a person's death. Perhaps you should re-read the Sentinel article and read what his widow said about the gentleman who died. Surely he is worth a greater degree of respect than what your article offered.
From TH Creative on September 23, 2004 at 5:03 PM
J. Dana writes: Hmmm, methinks Eisner's two-year plus planned lame-duck session didn't sit well with board members and investors.

I respond: I'm not certain it was a "plan" but rather Eisner's public indication that he didn't want to seek a new contract after the existing one ends in 2006. As I posted here before, I once traded emails with the LA Times' Richard Verrier in which I asked him if he had heard that Eisner had ever expressed any interest in staying beyond 2006. He responded, "no."

Regarding the board's attitude, for better or worse, the board has been remarkablly consistent in its unanimous -- and somewhat full-throated -- support for Eisner. Please note: I am not saying they SHOULD offer such support. Rather I am saying that the board has backed him -- again, for better or for worse.

In my (completely uninformed) opinion, I believe that the board will name a successor -- or a short list of candidates -- before the next shareholder's meeting.

Of course if they name a successor and Eisner leaves before 2006, the company will have to buy out his contract -- which means he loses nothing. And, since he is a board member who has a say in who gets hired, he could diplomatically pass the baton and exit gracefully.

Side note: Considering that Eisner told 'Fortune' magazine that it is unlikely he will remain on the board after he steps down as CEO, it might be that Eisner wants to quit. The way the theme park industry is struggling (and NOT just Disney), who can blame him?

From J. Dana on September 23, 2004 at 5:07 PM all my comments thereafter and see if I portray this as a laughable or trite happening. I think it stinks. And I think that's obvious. I don't think the theme parks should be let off the hook so easily. A man died, for crying out loud, and all we get is "we'll submit a report." Universal may have been absolutely not at fault--but let's not overlook this as is done so often. Yeah, Theme Park Insider is seriously concerned about safety. Why do you think this story is first?

If you want dour death news, read the Orlando Sentinel. Here, no matter how bleak, we try to keep things useful but lite. And speaking of the Orlando Sentinel, do any other news guys just puke when they read how the story ends? It takes a sickening tour into melodrama, almost making it a LifeTime Network episode. Just a thought.

From Kevin Baxter on September 23, 2004 at 5:19 PM
I don't think it made light of it at all. And it wasn't flippant. I think it falls along the same lines as my "Big Thunder Mountain Deathtrap" which no one has whined about.

In fact, the history of Egyptian tombs claiming the lives of people "trespassing" upon them practically FORCES writers to acknowledge it. And I am sure many will, and with far less tact.

From Derek Potter on September 23, 2004 at 6:50 PM
The Mummy death is unfortunate. It's a terrible thing when someone dies in a place designed for fun. Hopefully the whole story will come out and we will find out what really happened. I can see why Universal is taking a defensive stand on this, as Mummy is their new baby, but sweeping it under the rug seems to be a bit of a trend these days... at least it does with Disney.

I'm also glad to see that Georgia is becoming more involved in the theme/amusement industry. Let's not all forget that if you go to Florida, you have to go through Georgia to get there. Interstate 75 in Georgia is filled with weary tourists that have 20 hour drives to Orlando. They have done little more than hotel chains to cash in so far, but maybe that is starting to change.

I'm looking forward to this blog flume "persistor" deal. Good luck to all the writers. I hope that the flumes breed good discussion from everyone, and not criticism on writing it looks to me like someone may have already taken a drink of the old haterade.

From TH Creative on September 23, 2004 at 7:17 PM
J. Dana's defensiveness makes him the perfect candidate for the Blog job.

As for Mr. Baxter I certainly agree with the first three words in his post ("I don't think"). After that it was pretty much the same old Baxter blather (insert Y-A-W-N).

From JP parking Guy on September 23, 2004 at 7:36 PM
It was the guests poor judgement that caused this death. If you have health concerns. Espeacially if they are as bad as this guy had....Well you shouldn't be ridding thrill rides. The guy should have waited for help. Contrary to what Holland said. I don't believe that your blog was disrespectful.
From Robert OGrosky on September 23, 2004 at 9:40 PM
The guy with known medical conditions sadly fell and tragically died. How can a ride malfunction when the guest has a inability to even properly walk onto and then board the ride?? This could have happened anywhere and has nothing to do at all with the safety of this attraction. So if tomorrow i walk into a showing of Shrek or twister and trip and fall does that mean these shows are unsafe???
This incident has no comparsion at all to what happened on Big Thunder where the train derailed.
I feel sad for the family's loss but to somehow make comparsions is idiotic!!!

What should be looked into(and it wont due to pc reasons) is that fact that alot of injuries/deaths that take place happen to people who have medical/mental/weight problems and shouldnt be allowed to ride or if they do it is at there own risk.

From J. Dana on September 24, 2004 at 12:39 AM
To Ogrosky,

I do agree with your comment about how persons with disabilities or phycical limitations sometimes aid their own injury by attempting to ride an attraction that, quite frankly, is dangerous to them. Every attraction does not necessarily accommodate every person.

But you miss the point about the Thunder Mountain accident and the Mummy accident. I'm trying to point out that both were barely noticed by governing authorities. People died in both instances, but both theme park companies were barely held liable. Regardless of the specifics of each accident, it SHOULD NOT be common practice for safety authorities to basically turn a blind eye. And furthermore, how do we know that a lapse in employee performance didn't result in the man falling on the tracks at the Mummy? I'm not saying it was Universal's fault, but the fact that the safety agency chooses to not launch an independent investigation is concerning at best--disturbing. We can't ever really know what happened if we rely on the theme parks to police themselves. I mean, c'mon, really.

"So, Universal, are you responsible for this man's death?"

"Us? No, not all."

"Okay, we believe you....and hey, Disney, we noticed you've had some major injuries on your Thunder Mountain. How's that going for ya?"

"Oh, don't worry. We've got it under control."

"Sounds good. Just checking. Go about your business."

From Paul Headley on September 24, 2004 at 6:08 AM
As a Floridian I am thrilled to see Cypress Gardens reopen. In the past it seems it had become a hidden treasure lost in the shadows of the parks in Orlando. Yes, an interstate would be nice. But I grew up in Ohio and every year we made several trips to Cedar Point in Sandusky. 48 of those miles are driven on a two lane road. Driving home after the park closed it is apparent that I was not the only person that had to travel that route. Better roads are great but it doesn't stop you when there is a reward at the end of the road.
From Ben Mills on September 24, 2004 at 1:07 PM
Jeez THC, are YOU going for the Flume job? I generally don't make comments as I feel that people are sometimes overly harsh on you, but you're being a bit of an ass-hole at the moment. If people try their best, then leave them alone. If they're making personal attacks on you then fine, go nuts, but J was just trying to write an interesting column, and I think he succeeded.

You think you could do better? Do it yourself, and then we can all make pathetic comments about your best attempts.

No offense to anyone (not even THC) but if people are putting themselves out to have a go at this, let's be supportive, appreciative and friendly, okay? As a previous Flumer, I know what it's like getting crap thrown at you when all you're trying to do is help people. It's not nice, so don't do it.

From Kevin Baxter on September 24, 2004 at 1:23 PM
I do want people to realize that whoever gets the job WILL be Number Three, as Ben was my replacement on several occasions.

That said, take some Pamprin, THC. Why is it whenever ANYONE disagrees with you (which is practically EVERYONE) or offers up a simple retort to whatever swill you are selling, they are "defensive." I think it's apparent to the TPI audience who the real "defensive" one is here.

From Kevin Baxter on September 24, 2004 at 1:37 PM
By the way... The whole "man died on the Mummy" thing isn't close to true. The man FELL onto the tracks, but he was very much alive as he was complaining about stomach pains. They took him to the hospital where they decided his spleen had to be removed (obviously caused by his failing liver and not his bump on the noggin) and he died from complications. That doesn't negate the fact that he somehow fell in front of the car, but that certainly isn't a drop that would kill anyone.
From J. Dana on September 24, 2004 at 3:09 PM
I agree, Kevin. Although it's sad the guy died, I'm kinda thinking that just RIDING the coaster may have caused him to have some liver and spleen problems if he was already such poor health. People have to be realistic about what they can and can't take.

And by the way, folks, don't worry about "my feelings being hurt" by harsh comments from readers. It's all a part of the game. Support is always good--and thanks to those who've written personal emails. But not to worry. Whoever is the next Blogger needs to expect rants along with raves. No harm, no foul. Disagreements make for good conversation--even though some miscreants seem to relish just being nasty.

From Ben Mills on September 24, 2004 at 4:45 PM
Ahh, bless the Kevin and his little homage to me. Better not forget it bud; I kicked ass.

And if the eventual Flumer (Flume-ee?) wants some European backup - providing Robert's still cool with this - I'm happy to continue with my European Correspondent role. It won't be as regular as it used to be, what with external forces playing on my time, but it should cover most major stories, on a fairly regular basis.

But y'all can do that lame-ass DLP financial crap yourselves. I'm not getting involved in that mess.

From Robert OGrosky on September 24, 2004 at 9:06 PM
I can see that there was need for a investigation of the Big Thunder incident at DL as coaster trains dont often derail and if it does happen something is wrong.
But the situation is totally different at USF with The Mummy attraction. The ride itself had no problems at all as it wasnt operating at the time the guy fell. Unless some "surprise witness" shows up there is no reason to make a federal case of a person with medical conditions falling down and dying later at a hosptial for as of yet a unknown exact cause.
If i fall down walking to my seat at t23d would that also call for a major investigation?? Or if i fall into the water at Jaws while entering the boat and drown is that all the fault of the ride??
Im sure that USF has camera's set up in the loading area and likely has some portion on tape with other witness's that have been spoken too. The idea that government should get invovled when anything happens in this country is bad and just makes government that much bigger/costly and infringes more in the daily life of americans.
Accidents do happen, people do fall and die and that cant be legislated from not happening.
From J. Dana on September 25, 2004 at 12:48 AM
I'm all for smaller government....and I'm all for limiting frivalous lawsuits. HOWEVER, when someone dies, regardless of who appears to be at fault--AN INVESTIGATION IS WARRANTED. You're attitude seems to suggest that we should just let it go since it appears that the guy is solely at fault (and since it's Universal, we should just turn an blind eye). Although it DOES appear the dead guy is at fault, a death still occurred. Regardless of how much you may assume that nothing could have prevented this, how do you know? I sure as hell don't. NO ONE DOES until someone actually investigates what happened. All we know is what the Orlando Sentinel printed. All they know is what they've been told. Let me assure you, Universal is as capable of coverup as Disney is. I personally don't think Universal is at fault--but niether I nor you were there. So, my opinion doesn't matter. When someone dies, it should be investigated. PERIOD.
From Jason Herrera on September 25, 2004 at 9:08 AM
Thank you J. Dana. Finally someone who can understand why an investigation is needed. Instead of worrying about trival aspects which could affect the enthusiast and their amusement rides.

Good post!

From Robert Niles on September 25, 2004 at 9:26 AM
Keep in mind that we could have jurisdictional issues here. Just because the bureau of fair rides is not investigating does not mean that some other agency, such as the Orlando or Orange County crime lab, has not investigated the scene.
From Kevin Baxter on September 25, 2004 at 11:23 AM
Certainly some investigation needed to take place. At least into the gates, to see if they do block people from falling onto the tracks. Then again, that can't be more than a two-foot drop, so who's going to get seriously hurt doing that? The stairs at the end of the ride (at USH at least) are more dangerous than that. So, yes, there should be some investigation, but if it didn't directly involve the ride, then it very well could have been a short investigation.
From Robert OGrosky on September 25, 2004 at 3:07 PM
So i guess if this guy fell off the toilet seat at USF then we must have a investigation because someone died, right???
If he collapsed just before getting in line we also need a major investigation too, right???
Not every time someone dies does it mean foul play is at work/fault and does it warrant a major investigation that will use up thousands of dollars of taxpayers money.
From Robert Niles on September 25, 2004 at 3:57 PM
Don't you ever watch CSI, Robert? ;-)

When someone dies, it's best for a public responder to leave open the possibility of foul play, actionable negligence or some other mischief until the facts make clear the cause of death was natural and without the contribution of any other person. That doesn't mean you call in a 40-person investigation team for every death. But someone needs to *find out* what happened -- not just assume and hope.

In this case, paramedics were responding to an injury, not criminalists responding to a death. So there was no need for an immediate investigation, beyond taking statements from those involved so that paramedics could best treat the victim. And, when the victim later died, I think it was apparent from news reports that his poor medical condition was the leading contributor to his death. But the fact that the injury ultimately led to the death ought to cause a second look at the circumstances of the accident. Many different juridictions could do that. Just because one does not does not mean others won't. And let's not forget that if the victim's survivors are not satisfied with the effort given by the police, they can sue, leading to civil investigations of what happened.

From J. Dana on September 25, 2004 at 4:22 PM
If someone fell off the toilet seat and died, I'd certainly want an investigation! I mean, how many innocent lives could be saved if those darn toilet seats were just regulated. And those darn queu lines! I mean, really, we need to get rid of those before someone DOES die, thus leaving the theme parks at risk.

I'm smiling while I type, by the way. But in all seriousness, if someone died in the bathroom, I'd sure hope more than just the janitor would investigate why. In my humble opinion, every death OR life-threatening injury is followed by an investigation.

So, how'd you like that Incredibles trailer?

From luis gonzalez on September 25, 2004 at 5:15 PM
i was going to chime in on the whole, not taking the death seriously thing, but its all been said on both sides so why even bother.

i thought your post was very well written but i didnt feel you as a writer. i didnt get a sense of who you are which is part of what i think makes a great writer. my advice for next time is to bring a little bit more of yourself to the piece. i think keeping the same form is important but i want to tell the difference between the new writer and kevin baxter.

From Ben Mills on September 25, 2004 at 5:22 PM
Ah come on, it's pretty easy to tell the difference between Kevin and a writer.

Ooh...I've done it now... ;-)

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