10 Shocking Deaths at Disney Parks

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Disneyland is supposed to be one of the most wonderful places on Earth, and it’s probably one of the last places you would ever expect to die.

In a recent list, we already mentioned the death of Disneyland employee Deborah Gail Stone, whose head was crushed while working as a hostess at America Sings. Sadly, Deborah was not the only who met her maker in the park. Here are 10 more shocking stories of people who died at Disneyland.

(Note: if you couldn’t already guess from the title, some of this stuff is really dark and disturbing… so you’ve been cautioned)

10. Mark Maples

They say that “boys will be boys” but in the story of Mark Maples, shenanigans are what lead to his death. The Disneyland Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959. It was one of the park’s first roller coasters. From the outside, it looks like the Matterhorn mountain in the Swiss Alps, and park guests zoom in and out of mountain caves.

Just a few years after the Matterhorn’s grand opening, a 15-year-old boy named Mark Maples was visiting Disneyland. He decided to show off for his friend he was sitting next to. He unbuckled his seatbelt, and stood up just before the ride flew down its highest peak. Unfortunately, he lost his balance, and fell to the tracks down below. Mark died, and his friend was most likely traumatized for the rest of his life.

9. Thomas Cleveland

On “Grad Night,” high schools can book private parties at Disneyland for their graduating seniors from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. In 1966, the legal drinking age was 18, and it was right around the peak of hippie culture in California. So you can only imagine the fun that went on during these Disney Grad Nights. A local 19-year-old resident named Thomas Cleveland wanted to sneak into Disneyland to join the Grad Night festivities for free. He decided to climb a fence that lead up to the Monorail tracks, and planned to climb down once he reached the other side.

A security guard spotted him, and started shouting to get down, because the train was coming. Thomas ignored him, and jumped from the fence onto the Monorail track, where the oncoming train hit him, and dragged his body 40 feet down the track. Needless to say, Thomas died that night, and he never got to crash the party.  

8. Dolly Regina Young

Several years after the death of Mark Maples’ death on the Matterhorn, a 48-year-old woman named Dolly Regina Young died in almost exactly the same way. Her seatbelt was not fastened, so when the Matterhorn bobsled dipped down the highest peak, her body flew out of the seat.

She was sitting in the very last car, so she fell onto the track, and her body was crushed by an oncoming sled. She was sitting alone in the car at the time, so there was no one there to witness if she forgot to fasten her seatbelt, if she chose to stand up, or if the ride somehow malfunctioned. Disney park employees now claim that the spot where she died on the Matterhorn is haunted, and it is nicknamed “Dolly’s Drop.

7. Brandon Zucker

In September of 2000, a 4-year-old boy named Brandon Zucker was on the ride called Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin with his father, David. Somehow, Brandon managed to fall out of the moving car, and was crushed underneath the car behind him. The ride continued to move along without stopping. David rushed outside multiple times, screaming for park employees to stop the ride, and help his son. Unfortunately, at the time, it was Disney park procedure to not call 911 right away, no matter how frantic a park guest may seem. The employees simply told him to calm down and wait for security to arrive.

The damage done to Brandon’s body was incredibly graphic, and without immediate medical attention, he would have died before the ambulance could arrive. Thankfully, one of the parents who witnessed the accident was a medical assistant named Teresa Reed, and she was able to rush to Brandon’s aid. Brandon to become paraplegic, and he was under constant medical care for the rest of his life. For the next 8 years, he could not walk, talk, or enjoy life. He died at just 13-years-old.

The family sued Disney for Brandon’s medical bills, and the lawsuit forced Disneyland to change their emergency procedures. While the exact amount was kept private, it is estimated that the Zucker family may have received close to $30 million in the settlement.

6. Bogden Delaurot

18-year-old Bogden Delaurot and his 10-year-old brother were visiting Disneyland, and they decided it would be fun to stay past closing time to take a closer look at the burning settlers cabin on Tom Sawyer’s Island, since it’s normally not accessible to park guests. After a few hours, they both got bored, and decided it was best to head back.

The only problem was that there was no way off the island without getting in trouble with park employees. Bogden told his brother to get on his back, so he could swim them both to shore. Unfortunately, the weight was too much, and it caused Bogden to drown. His younger brother managed to doggy paddle his way to park employees, who helped to fish him out of the water.

5. Sherrill Anne Hoffman

In 1979, a 31-year-old woman named Sherrill Anne Hoffman was riding on Space Mountain, and she became sick. When all of the other passengers got off the ride, the park employees asked her to stay in her vehicle, because they planned to remove it from the track, so they could continue on without stopping to clean up the car. Sadly, there wasn’t very good communication between the employees, because Sherrill stayed in the ride like she was told, but the car was never removed, and she went around Space Mountain a second time. She passed out, and by the time she came around again, she had to be rushed to the hospital. She fell into a coma, and died soon after.

It turns out that Sherrill had a tumor, and the speed of the ride dislodged it into her brain. Sherrill’s husband tried to sue the park for sending her around a second time, but they claim that since they had signs warning people with medical conditions to stay away, they couldn’t be held responsible.

4. Ricky Lee Yama

It was August of 1967, and Disneyland had just opened Tomorrowland, which included its new ride called the People Mover. The cars moved fairly slowly, but their purpose was to transport park guests through every section of Tomorrowland. It was designed so that guests could get on and off the ride while it was still moving. Only one month after it opened, a 17-year-old named Ricky Lee Yama thought it would be funny to step out of his car and move to the next one, so he could sit with his friends. He decided to do this while the People Move passed through a dark tunnel. Unfortunately, Ricky lost his balance on the rotating platform, and fell onto the tracks. Another set of cars came along, and crushed his body under the wheels. He was dragged until the employees could stop the ride, but by then, he was already dead.

A few years later, in 1980, a teenager named Gerardo Gonzalez died in almost exactly the same way, when he tried to hop cars on the People Mover during his Grad Night.

3. Philip Straughan

An 18-year-old named Philip Straughan was yet another high school senior who was celebrating at Grad Night with his class from Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to some reports, Philip was also celebrating his 18th birthday, so he got quite drunk with his friends that night.  

He decided to play one last prank by stealing an employee boat near Tom Sawyer’s Island, so he could take a drive. Keep in mind, this was the middle of the night, so Philip couldn’t actually see where he was going. He crashed into a giant rock, fell into the water, and drowned in Disney’s “Rivers of America.”

2. Luan Phi Dawson

It was Christmas Eve of 1998, when a Microsoft engineer named Luan Phi Dawson and his wife were visiting Disneyland with their family. They were standing in line, waiting for a ride on the ship “Columbia” on the Rivers of America. The boat was tied to the dock by a rope, and secured around a metal cleat. Unfortunately, the Disney park employee was poorly trained for their job, and forgot to untie the rope. So, when the boat moved forward, it yanked the metal cleat out of the dock, and hit Dawson in the head. He was sent to the hospital, and two days later, he was dead. His children were standing close by, and witnessed the tragic end of their father’s life.

This was the first death at Disneyland where the company could not blame the park guest for their behavior, and they were forced to update their employee safety training. Dawson’s family took Disney to court, and they settled for an unknown dollar amount. Some speculate that Disney could have paid the Dawson family as much as $20 million.

1. Marcelo Torres

Marcelo Torres was a 22-year-old graphic designer who decided to go on a spontaneous trip Disneyland with his best friend. He was riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is basically a roller coaster shaped like a train out of the Old West. Park employees heard a loud clanging noise coming from the train, but none of them were mechanically trained. So, they decided not remove the car from the ride.

Sure enough, the wheel assembly fell off the train. Ten park guests were seriously injured. Marcelo Torres was in the very front seat of the train, and died from the crash. The Torres family sued Disney for the death of their son, and won the case. They created a scholarship fund in his name, donating $500,000 of it to aspiring graphic artists. This incident forced Disney to change their policies when it came to the maintenance of their rides.  

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