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August 24, 1999

12-Year Old Falls to Death at Pararmount's Great America

Santa Clara, CA -- A 12-year old boy fell to his death Sunday afternoon while riding the Drop Zone freefall thrill ride at Paramount's Great America.

At approximately 3:20 p.m. Joshua Smurphat, 12, of Sunnyvale, mysteriously fell out of his seat after the four-passenger car began its decent down the 200-foot plus tower.

According to Great America spokesman Timothy Chanaud, "The harness was checked and locked before the coach started, and it was still locked when the vehicle returned to the ground. We simply don't know what happened."

Park officials could not say from what height the boy fell, but it is believed that he died instantly.

Chanaud did say that the boy had "severe mental and physical handicaps, but his disabilities would not disqualify him from riding the attraction."

The DropZone is a 224-foot tall freefall tower that drops six four-passenger cars down 207 feet at speeds of up to 60 mph. The thrill ride was designed by Intamin AG of Switzerland and is often referred to as a "second-generation freefall."

Following the incident park officials closed off a section of the park including several other major attractions. The remainder of the park remained in operation.

Park officials said that the same section of the park would remain closed on Monday, but the rest of the park would open as scheduled.

Local police and park investigators are trying to determine how the boy could have come out of his restraint.

According to the park this is the first serious accident on this attraction, which is one of the most popular rides at the park. "It has a good safety record," according to Chanaud.