Teen went on ride many times
The British girl enjoyed Tower of Terror repeatedly before suffering cardiac arrest.
By Willoughby Mariano and Jerry W. Jackson
Sentinel Staff Writer
July 14, 2005
No one saw it coming. Over and over again, Leanne Deacon rode the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror thrill ride without a hitch. The British teen had visited Disney-MGM Studios six times in a week.
Before Leanne, 16, suffered cardiac arrest Tuesday -- minutes after exiting the popular attraction -- Leanne's only recent health complaints were headaches and leg cramps, according to details released in an Orange County sheriff's report Wednesday.
Leanne remained in critical condition at Florida Hospital Orlando on Wednesday, a day after doctors discovered blood on her brain and performed emergency surgery.
Meanwhile, Tower of Terror passed safety inspections, visitors resumed standing in the attraction's hourlong lines, and riders screamed their way up and down its steep climbs and drops. Disney said engineers and ride-system experts worked through early Wednesday morning to complete an inspection monitored by the Florida Department of Agriculture Bureau of Fair Rides Inspection.
While the sheriff's report notes that Leanne's car had a technical problem, investigators found the ride operated properly. State and Disney officials agree.
The attraction simulates five minutes in a hotel elevator gone amok. Giant 21-passenger cars shoot to the top of the tower -- Walt Disney World's second-tallest point -- and plunge and jerk down to earth.
Tuesday's incident took place less than a month after a Pennsylvania boy, Daudi Bamuwamye, 4, collapsed on Epcot's Mission: Space ride June 13 and later died. Inspections showed no signs of ride malfunction, and officials await a medical examiner's report on the cause of death.
Moments before falling ill, Leanne smiled, as revealed in a souvenir snapshot taken by a Tower of Terror camera and released by the Sheriff's Office. At 9:49 a.m. Tuesday, as the ride took its final plunge, Leanne's eyes closed and her mouth grinned wide.
Leanne exited at 9:50 a.m., shaking and lightheaded. She drifted in and out of consciousness and her arm fell limp, the report states.
By the time she arrived in an ambulance at Florida Hospital Celebration Health, her heart had stopped beating. Emergency workers had to revive her, Orange County sheriff's spokesman Jim Solomons said.
A CT scan showed the teen had bleeding in her brain and required emergency surgery, the report states. She was later transferred to the Orlando hospital.
Leanne's sudden illness shocked her mother, June Deacon, 54, who rode Tower of Terror with her daughter Tuesday morning, according to the sheriff's report.
Leanne Deacon "is very active, athletic, jogs regularly, and is in great health," June Deacon told investigators. The girl "had been complaining of headaches and leg cramps for several days," the report states.
Leanne's family declined requests for an interview through Florida Hospital spokeswoman Samantha O'Lenick. The spokeswoman said she was not authorized to release further information about the teen's health.
No one was in the Tower of Terror car when a computer recorded a technical glitch. The glitch concerned the speed of the car while it moves horizontally, not as it travels through the vertical shaft, Disney spokeswoman Kim Prunty said.
The readings were "totally irrelevant" to the incident, Prunty said. A Disney maintenance employee told investigators in a sworn statement that the glitch was "in no way a safety concern or could in no way cause injury," according to the sheriff's report.
Disney invited the state inspectors to check out the ride, even though the park is not required to do so by Florida law, agency spokesman Terry McElroy said.
Isadore "Izzy" Rommes, chief of the Tallahassee-based inspection agency, and his top investigator, Allan Harrison, worked alongside Disney engineers from Tuesday until nearly 4 a.m. Wednesday.
"We observed their testing of the equipment, backwards and forwards, numerous times," McElroy said.
State inspectors have examined the ride in the past, McElroy said. Reports show Tower of Terror has fewer reported incidents requiring hospital checkups than Mission: Space.
Ken Martin, an independent ride-safety consultant in Virginia, said he thinks the latest incident at Disney reinforces the need for national "standards of operation" that apply to all parks large and small, and the need for outside investigations.
"There are just too many little things happening" with thrill rides nationwide, Martin said.
Tower of Terror is among the most popular rides at Disney-MGM Studios. By 10 a.m. Wednesday, the wait time was the park's longest. Most visitors to Tower of Terror hadn't heard about the British teen's sudden trip to the hospital.
Derenda Davila, a chaperone for a Lubbock, Texas, church group, said the news didn't worry her.
"It's awesome. I would ride it again," Davila said of the ride.
"It's not too scary," said Nick Watts, another chaperone.
Willoughby Mariano can be reached
or 407-420-5171. Jerry W. Jackson
can be reached at 407-420-5721
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Lord High Keeper of the Knowledge of Right and Wrong, Counselor in Moments of Temptation, and Guide along the Straight and Narrow Path and Oldest Active DWT/WDW Radio Member
DL: 1955* (1); WDW: 1977* (2), 1980* (2), 1985* (3), 1989* (3), 1996 (ASMu-3), 1999 (ASMo-3), 2000 (ASMu-2/PO-2), 2001 (ASMu-5), 2002 (ASMu-5), 2003 (ASMo-5), 2004* (8), 2004 (ASMo-8), 2005 (PC-10), 2006* (15), 2007* (20), 2008* (22), 2009* (26), 2010* (27), 2011* (32), 2012* (39), 2013* (36), 2013* (15), 2013* (9), 2013* (13), 2014* (40) Total Trips/Days = 26/353