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.


  • 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 injury.

  • 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 bruised.

  • 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 about death.

  • 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 from drowning.

  • 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 cage.
    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 lower platform.

  • 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.

  • 1948
    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.