Horrendous Amusement Park Accidents
The material is copyrighted © 2000 by Jeffrey Stanton.
August 8, 2000
During the many years that I've been selling Venice history books on
the Venice boardwalk, I've meet many people who have sworn that they have
either seen an accident on one of Venice and Ocean Park's amusement piers or
have heard about one. The most common legends are the stories of entire roller
coaster trains flying off turns and into the ocean or bubble sky-cars at
Pacific Ocean Park falling into to the sea with a load of passengers. One
girl insisted that 14 people died when the P.O.P.'s Sea Serpent coaster hit
the water, yet an accident like that should have made headlines and I read the
several different newspapers straight through from the beginning of the
century until the parks were demolished. One man I know recalls a sailor
during World War II falling off the Giant Dipper coaster at the Venice Pier
and landing in the adjacent children's playground where he was playing. There
were enough people thrown from that coaster that it likely happened.
Maybe the accounts of the actual amusement park accidents aren't as spectacular
as people wish, but some of the ones described in this article are just as
interesting or just plain gruesome. This article is not for the squeamish,
so if you have a weak stomach try another article. And I'm sorry that there
are no photos accompanying this article, but newspapers in the old days rarely
ran news photos and certainly wouldn't have printed photos of accident victims.
I've divided this article into Performance Accidents where an accident happens
to those giving the show, Roller Coaster Accidents which were in the majority,
and Miscellaneous Accidents that happened to either patrons or workers. The
majority of these accidents involve single fatalities although a few of the
lucky ones survived. And just to clear things up, not one of the area's 14
roller coasters ever had a coaster train derailment where a car left the track.
However, that doesn't mean that the passengers weren't occasionally flung
out of the cars to land onto the pier, beach or sea below.
Apr 8 1912
Dare Devil Ride for Life, built by Thomas Prior, opened next to
the Merry Widow at the corner of Windward & O.F. Walk. It
featured a wooden motordrome at an angle of 72 degrees and was
80 feet in diameter. First day, driver Ellis overturned while
going 50 MPH. Ellis walked away from the accident unscathed.
Dec 30 1912
Hal Shain, a driver in 'Race for Life' bowl (track)
jumped over the danger line and collided with one of
the projecting posts. His car crashed to the bottom
of the racing dish, a mangled wreck. He died two hours later.
Three spectators badly injured.
Dec 30 1912
Hal Shain last run @ Dare Devil Race for Life.
Death wins at last as car leaps tiger-like in its course,
finally hurling the "Daredevil" rider to pit's bottom with
the driver beneath, frightfully mangled, dying from injuries
two hours later. Four badly injured."
Yesterday's 2 P.M. accident - 3 others injured.
2 men & one woman (fractured jaw) were hit by the car and
timbers which it struck.
All were taken to St. Catherine's Hospital.
Shain had been driving quite recklessly for several days.
Yesterday he was determined to drive his car to the very upper
edge of track, but his machine struck one of the posts
supporting the railing. From the first post struck, the
machine skidded 15 feet, then turned upward and plowed its way
through railing and into several rows of seats. This is where
the two men and woman were standing. The machine then fell
backwards into the pit (about 20 ft) landing upside down at
bottom with the driver beneath it.
He was pulled out from under broken car.
Haynes stock car weighing 2500 pounds.
It left the track on western side of bowl.
Nov 20 1915
Woman severely bitten by reptile at Alligator Farm.
Cleo Frasee, a handler, severely bitten by an enraged 6 ft long
reptile when she stepped on its tail last night. It fastened
its teeth on her right thigh.
July 17 1916
Aviator Mattingly, whose plane lost power and crashed into ocean, narrowly
escaped by jumping clear & somersaulting out of plane, just before it
hit. Swimmers quickly rescued him. 80 swimmers towed in the wrecked plane.
July 2 1927
Horse `Lightning' drowned yesterday. 12 people attempted to
rescue horse. Second horse in practice dive. First horse became
confused and began to swim towards China, then beyond the
reach of the lifeguards. Then it turned and swam under the pier
through pilings. Horse turned back out to sea. Then the tired
horse's head dropped into the water. Lifeguards put float
under its head.
Act pulled from the pier.
July 2 1927
Diving horse dead - show cancelled.
"Lightening" the prize show animal of entire troupe was drowned.
Horse was making practice jumps without a rider into the surf
from a 40 foot tower on Lick Pier. The horse became confused
and swam out to sea. Half-dozen lifeguards rescued him by
swimming out 500 yards into ocean and buoyed him up with life
saving cans on every side. He was brought to shore but couldn't
be resuscitated. Carver's daughter was distraught.
Horse worth $20,000.
July 4 1932
Parachute jumper battles fiery death in clouds.
Louis Speedy Babbs aerial daredevil was to leap from
a plane at 8000 feet and descend by parachute while
operating a fireworks show.
Unfortunately his clothes caught fire at 5000 feet,
and spectators didn't realize it until his writhing
body, enveloped in flames, dropped from the fog into
the clear a few hundred feet above the ocean. Speed boats
rescued him - he had severe first & second degree burns.
One of the bombs prematurely exploded. The bag was
strapped to body - brand held in his teeth.
Aug 6 1934
Snake bites man in act at beach as crowd looks on.
Mile Allman was in pit known as "Death Valley." 40 snakes were
placed on his body, face and hands. As they were removed, the
seven footer struck. His brother immediately gave him first aid
and he was then rushed to the hospital.
July 27 1935
Human cannon-ball death probed.
W.C. Filler (24) dies in first attempt at dangerous stunt on
Ocean Park Pier. He was hurled 150 feet in an arc and landed in
the ocean. Spectators were horrified when Miller's rigid body
struck full length against a wave, then came to the surface and
disappeared. Life guards dragged ocean for body.
At inquest - stunt deemed safe if man knows how to dive.
ROLLER COASTER ACCIDENTS
Apr 17 1911
Near accident on Ocean Park Grand Canyon Scenic Railway.
Two trains crashed in a rear end collision.
No passengers hurt - one motorman bruised.
One of the trains missed its clutch at bottom of an incline
and couldn't make top of hill. Another car appeared quickly from
behind. Its motorman threw on emergency brakes. Only a portion
of the first train's rear seat smashed.
Aug 14 1911
Near fatal accident on Giant Coaster (Race Thru Clouds).
Frank Lazarus, who was riding in front seat of train (and drunk)
stood up and with all his might, grabbed the front fender and
lifted up on a turn. Car derailed.
Lazarus fell out and hit the cross beams.
C.M. Shields stood up on curve and thrown out. He caught the
cross beam below track. Prevented from falling further.
Apr 8 1912
Two accidents involving intoxicated riders on Race Thru the
Clouds coaster. Jacob Toutefhouse, who stood up, was instantly
killed when his head struck a beam. Luke McNamee was luckier
when he fell from the car and sustained only a serious thigh
June 25 1923
Some Kick Coaster - train loading from behind on track,
struck from behind by second train.
First car hurled 50 feet down track to bottom of first hill.
Entire front seat of second train crushed.
Scores escaped possible death & injury.
They loaded one train and watched when other train was
approaching before releasing train from station.
Aug 3 1923
Youth dies after fall off coaster.
Sam Joelson (16) - stood up and was thrown out of car on Giant
Dipper at Ocean Park Pier. It was his second ride & he was seen
standing up on first ride and told not to.
Oct 3 1923
Paul Waggner (18), who stood up on Some Kick coaster, was killed.
His head smashed into a supporting beam.
Manager of coaster spotted him and intended to ban him from the
ride, but it was too late.
July 6 1925\
Woman, Mrs. Irene Henry (23), lost her life Saturday night
on Venice Pier coaster, Giant Dipper, when she stood up. She
hit the deck of pier 50 ft below.
Newsie, Eddie Noyes, gets into a fight with coaster employee
who found him selling newspapers nearby with article about
coaster death with banner headline. When asked to leave, he
fights and is arrested.
Note: Judge lets him off several days later.
Sept 10 1925
Giant Dipper Co. sued for $5000.
Father of Della Hinckle (14) brings suit for injuries on coaster
June 14th. When car made sudden jerk, girl was thrown forward &
to side - broke arm, wretched other wrist + chin & left hip
Feb 28 1927
Lad killed on 'Air Derby' roller coaster on Ocean Park Pier.
John O'Brien (19) of Los Angeles had been warned before the
ride started not to stand up. But he was trying to "show off"
by balancing on his hands on the front rail as it shot around
a turn. He plunged 125 feet into ocean.
First accident on coaster built 18 months ago.
850,000 people had ridden it up without an accident.
July 25 1927
Accident on Giant Dipper coaster on Lick Pier.
Men in rear catch young girl passenger in mid-air by the leg
as she sailed past them. While Catherine Deal (22) was riding
in the front seat of the train, she turned around and was
waving to friends in the seat behind, when a sudden jerk on
the high turn hurled her out of her seat. If they hadn't
caught her, she would have fallen below or if landed on the
tracks, been struck by the next train. She remained in the
hospital with a fractured skull.
Oct 10 1927
Lad fatally injured on Venice Pier's Some Kick coaster at the
end of the pier.
Charles Newlinger (18) of Los Angeles was hurled out of car
and hit pier deck 40 ft below.
Witnesses claim at first that he was riding alone in the first
car and not standing up.
But at inquest - boy attempted to stand up just as train
lurched around its final turn.
Jan 16 1928
Culver City youth killed on Hi-Boy coaster on Ocean Park Pier.
Victim, Victor Mix (17), ignored warning against standing up.
He stood up several times during ride and was thrown clear of
coaster car and into ocean. He was found clinging to a pier
piling at end of pier. He died aa few hours later from injuries.
Mar 18 1929
Plunge from pier coaster kills youth. (probably Hi-Boy) Audrey W. Hamilton
(22) stood up in car on a turn and hurled 90 feet to death in ocean. When
the ride ended, his friend William Laendeman leapt off the pier to rescue
him. Unfortunately he struck his head on iron grace before hitting water
July 9 1929
Fear youngster hurled to his death from Ocean Park coaster.
Life guards search ocean for body.
Two boys report a third boy, who they didn't know, stood up
as it rounded a turn and flung out of car. No trace of body
could be found.
July 18 1929
Ocean gives up body of ride victim.
Corpse floats ashore at Raymond Avenue.
Toby Etersic (14), dropped to his death on night of July 8th,
when he stood up on the Hi-Boy roller coaster.
Sept 9 1929
Woman hurled to death from pier thriller (Hi-Boy coaster). Possibility
that Mrs. Imogene Weatherwax (20) deliberately leaped (suicide)from the
ride is probed. Little girl seated next to her advised her not to talk
Aug 13 1931
Quartet safe in freak accident on Pier Coaster.
3 Venice residents and one of Palms escaped death last night on
the Hi-Boy coaster.
They were riding in front car of three car train. At bottom of
one of the dips, the front car became uncoupled from two behind.
While the front car started up next hill, the other cars slowed
down. The lone car, lacking the momentum of the other two cars,
didn't make the top of hill and began coasting back down towards
the nearly motionless vacant other cars. The car crashed into
other two, hurling the four occupants out of their seats.
Fortunately they were thrown directly backwards and landed in one
of the other cars. If they had been thrown sideways, they would
have plunged through the scaffolding to their deaths 50 ft below.
None were seriously hurt.
June 12 1933
Coaster accident on Venice Pier coaster (probably Giant Dipper).
Jerome B. Cooper (27) stood up, lost his balance and fell forward
onto tracks and was run over by the coaster. His body was almost
unrecognizable after it dropped 20 feet to pier.
Sept 3 1935
Roller coaster victim may live.
Mitilda Peller (19) flung out of Hi-Boy coaster into sea and
saved by boy friend, Howard Young (27), who jumped out of the
car when it stopped and dove into the ocean to save her.
She is in hospital with internal injuries; broken shoulder,
several broken ribs and a possible skull fracture.
She stood up to get an extra thrill when the car hit a sharp
turn, hurling her body 50 ft into the ocean below.
Believed to be thrown clear of the pier.
Sept 9 1935
Girl hurt on Hi-Boy. Catapulted from rear car, fell 50 ft,
then rolled off track into ocean. Boy friend leaped from
car as it finished its trip and dove into ocean to save her
Dec 2 1935
Floating timbers balk hunt for coaster victim's body. Grim burnt-off pilings
beneath Ocean Park Pier still frustrating police in efforts to recover
body of Ted Bingy (23), who was thrown from a car on pier's roller coaster
track. He stood up as train went around a curve preparatory to shooting
down a dip. He apparently lost his balance at this point and was hurtled
out of the car to the snag-covered ocean bottom 50 ft below. His companion,
a girl was seated next to him.
Dec 3 1935
Body of Coaster Victim recovered.
Joseph Binchkovsky (21) was hurled to his death from Ocean Park
Hi-Boy last Saturday night and disappeared beneath the waves.
His body finally washed ashore. Positively identified by
driver's license found in his clothing.
Sept 2 1937
Richard Howell (20), who sustained serious injuries in a fall
from a roller coaster on the Venice Pier, was transferred to
an Army hospital at Fort MacArthur.
Suffering from a fractured vertebrae, shoulder, and rib.
May 11 1943
Thrill ride ends for one. Frank Vasquez (16) of Tuscon Arizona hurled
from speeding roller coaster on Ocean Park Pier. His friend seated next
to him tried to save him by grabbing his overcoat, but the garment was
pulled over Vasquez's arms and head as he hurtled out of the car.
May 2 1912
Wreck on the Venice Miniature Railroad
Train going 12 MPH jumped track and turned over hurling Engineer
C.C. Campbell from his cab and injuring him slightly.
Train loaded with 60 Balloon Route Excursionists.
Many shaken up - none injured since coaches remained upright on
track. Accident happened near Windward station.
July 22 1912
Morton's narrow escape from balloon at 4 P.M.
The ring to which parachute was attached broke just as hot-air
balloon was leaving earth. The big bag flew eastward and ascended
at the Race Thru Clouds, just missing a train of cars.
It landed in the field beyond. Some wondered what would have
happened if landed on the moving train.
Dec 16 1912
Captive Balloon ride escapes - lands near San Pedro after
winds carried them south-east, then over the water.
Two passengers and pilot, John Waggoner rescued.
Also an 8 year old boy.
Aug 20 1913
Shooting gallery death at Windward Pier. George L. Sanford, operator, died
with a pellet in base of brain. 11 year old boy, who laid it on the counter
when he was finished, says it accidentally discharged.
Nov 4 1918
Captive bear on Windward Pier grabs little girl & mangles her to death.
Grabbed by one of two cinnamon bears as she was passing their cage near
the end of the pier. Two year old Titania Corrine Willard daughter of Daniel
W. Williard (129 Clubhouse) was dismembered before assistance could be given.
She died shortly after admittance to St. Catherine Hospital.
As she passed cage, the larger of two bears, crouched on the
floor of cage waiting for candy and nuts to be tossed to it,
reached out with its giant paws and pulled little girl feet first
through 10 inch opening or gap at bottom of cage.
There was a short childish scream from little girl, a shriek from
mother standing close by & scores of screams by startled
bystanders as it pulled the girl's crunched right leg into the
The opening wasn't large enough to fit the girl so the bear
tugged the leg apart from her hip. The frantic mother made a move
towards the cage, but was stopped by Captain Shishim, who with
pistol raised, shot two bullets into the bear's brain.
100 people witnessed accident.
The little girl was still conscious but bleeding from many wounds
inflicted by the bear's claws.
The father held the dying child as she was rushed by ambulance
to hospital. Just as it arrived, little girl spoke, "Kiss me
daddy" then fell asleep.
Bears were owned by Abbot Kinney Co. and not considered vicious.
In future no wild animals to be led through the streets.
July 30 1923
Boy, Ira McKay (14) killed yesterday while riding on Sea Swings
behind Venice Plunge. He was attempting to change from one
swing to another when he lost his grip and was thrown head first
against a cement wall at its side.
June 19 1924
Car strikes Venice Miniature Railroad locomotive. It goes into
ditch while car stays put. Intersection of Rialto & Riveria.
*photo looks like #1.
July 17 1929
Man narrowly escapes death on Racing Derby.
Electricity at open switch throws worker into path of horses.
His head struck the banister several times before ride stopped.
Aug 10 1933
Actor drives off Venice Pier and is killed.
Jean Malin, a night club performer known for his female
impersonations, died. He had just finished his performance at
the Ship Cafe. His car suddenly started and before Malin could
stop the car, it plunged 18 ft into ocean and landed upturned
in four feet of water. He was pinned by the broken steering
wheel and drowned.
Sept 8 1933
Glendale woman, Miss Alice W. Mercer (29) of Glendale, kills herself with
pistol at the Venice Pier. She was at the shooting gallery and asked for
a gun. When the owner handed her a 22 caliber pistol, she asked for a larger
gun which he didn't have.
Mar 14 1935
Lady suing owners of 'Loop of Trills'
Lady tore ligament in accident last Sept.
June 28 1936
Man injured on Niagara Barrel.
Sol Jacobs stood up repeatedly while the inner passenger
compartment was in motion. He was warned to sit down.
He fell into the space between the barrels.
Hospitalized with cuts and abrasions all over body.
Aug 21 1944
Four hurt on Waltzer ride (O.P. Pier) when car broke loose and
hit other cars.
Aug 22 1944
Six persons hospitalized on Sunday when a Waltzer car on Ocean
Park Pier broke loose and crashed into several other loaded
cars, then crashed through a guard rail and dropped 4 feet to
Aug 9 1945
Roller coaster on Venice Pier kills sailor James Ney (19). Cars had just
negotiated a sharp turn when the sailor pitched forward and was hurled 25
feet to the pier deck. The woman seated next to him said he neither stood
up or was drunk and that she made an attempt to grab him.
Accident on Chutes where a 4 year old boy hurled from boat-died.
NOTE: While I have never found the newspaper account, a reliable
source told me about it, and I once met a member of the
family who owned the ride who was still angry that the
subsequent lawsuit bankrupt their family.
Aug 19 1964
Twenty year old P.O.P. worker on Sky Ride, John S. Adams,
got his pants pocket hooked on outside handle of car, jerked
him off his feet, and carried him instantly out over water.
At first he hung on, but lost his grip and fell into the water
80 feet below. He swam to shore.