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Universal Studios tram crash seriously injured riders, lawyer says

A passenger on a Universal Studios tram that crashed into a guardrail Saturday estimates the ride reached speeds of up to 20 to 40 mph after the driver apparently lost control of the tram , which is much faster than the usual slow pace of the attraction, according to the man’s lawyer.

Fifteen passengers aboard the streetcar were “mildly to moderately injured” after the streetcar crashed shortly after 9 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said in a report. The streetcar cars were passing a set of props from the “Jurassic Park” film franchise when the streetcar driver turned onto Avenue M and, for some unknown reason, the last car in the procession collided with the metal guardrail on the right side,” says the CHP. This caused the tram to “tilt and eject several passengers from the tram,” authorities said in the report.

Details of the crash that occurred Saturday night — the 60th anniversary of the streetcar ride — remain unclear, but the CHP said the agency determined that drugs and alcohol were not a factor.

Attorney Steven Dhillon, who represents two adults and an 11-year-old girl injured in the crash, said one of his adult clients suffered a brain injury after her head hit a metal or Plexiglas frame of the tram.

“She woke up sick with nausea and vomiting the next morning,” Dhillon said by phone.

After going to the hospital the next morning, she was told there was bleeding in her brain, according to Dhillon, who did not make her clients available to The Times to discuss their injuries or disclose their names.

Another of Dhillon’s customers in the last car of the streetcar said it appeared the driver lost control on the descent, allowing the streetcar to rapidly accelerate as passengers screamed, the attorney said. The guest said the accident exacerbated pain from previous knee and spinal surgeries, according to Dhillon, who did not disclose his client’s age.

On Saturday, Lt. Maria Abal of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said there appeared to be a problem with the streetcar’s brakes. While the Sheriff’s Department responded to the scene of the accident, the CHP is the lead agency in the investigation, a Universal Studios spokesperson said. The CHP has not made public the results of its investigation.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the guests involved and we are grateful that, based on agency reports, the injuries sustained were minor,” Universal Studios said in a statement.

The theme park said it was working closely with authorities while continuing its own assessment of the incident, adding that “safety remains a top priority.”

Although initial reports of injuries appeared minimal, the long-term effects of the accident will likely continue to develop over the coming months, Dhillon said. He is currently discussing the situation with Universal Studios.

A Universal Studios spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on Dhillon’s claims.

The Studio Tour tram will continue to operate with a modified route and the theme park will strengthen its “operational and safety protocols.”

In many ways, the trolley ride defined the theme park.

Over the years, countless riders have had close encounters with a robot shark representing the bloodthirsty star of the film “Jaws,” a terrifying stop outside the Bates Motel from the film classic “Psycho” and a harrowing escape from the clutches from King Kong.

New film franchises have joined the tour, including a walk through a suburban neighborhood devastated by aliens from the 2005 film “War of the Worlds” and a western-themed spectacle from the 2022 Jordan Peele film “Nope.”

The streetcar tour began in 1964 when Universal Studios executives noticed that food sales at the studio commissary skyrocketed after local tour buses were allowed through the studio gates to allow fans to have an overview of the sets and props from the backlot.

The first iteration of the attraction was the pink and white Glamor trams, which carried approximately 38,200 passengers in its first year. Passengers paid $2.50 for a 2.5-hour tour that included stops to see a stunt show and a movie makeup exhibit.

Later renamed the Universal Studios Studio Tour, the streetcars have since endured actual fires, labor disputes, a series of expansions and at least one fatal accident.

The theme park has launched a renovation project in 2022 to begin converting diesel-hydraulic vehicles to run on electricity to reduce emissions. It is unclear whether the tram that hit the guardrail was a newer electric vehicle or an older version.

This is not the first time an accident has occurred at the theme park. In 1986, a park employee was hit by the tram during a special Halloween “Fright Nights” show. Paul Rebalde, 20, was parked in a parked streetcar filled with mannequins dressed to look like corpses, the Sheriff’s Department said at the time.

In costume, Rebalde had to jump among the models on the parked tram and frighten passers-by in the moving trams. But the stunt went wrong when Rebalde jumped and got stuck between the third and fourth sections of a four-section tram, before being crushed and dragged to his death, authorities said. The Halloween-themed attraction was suspended for several years and later renamed “Halloween Horror Nights”.

Most recently, a stuntman was hospitalized after performing in the show “Waterworld” in January 2023. The performer was set on fire shortly before jumping from a tower during the show’s finale. The “Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular” show was inspired by the 1995 Kevin Costner film and debuted a few months after the film’s debut.

Times Executive Editor Hugo Martin contributed to this report.

California Daily Newspapers

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