This Day in History: March 7th

Today in History: March 7, 1981

disneyland18 year-old Mel Yorba entered Disneyworld with several friends on March 7, 1981. By some accounts, the teenager and his friends were pretty tanked. Drunk or not, Yorba pinched the butt of a passing girl, who immediately alerted her boyfriend, 28 year-old James O’Driscoll. He wasn’t having that, and began chasing Yorba through the park.

O’Driscoll caught up with Yorba, who popped him in the jaw. O’Driscoll fell to the ground, pulling Yorba down with him, tussling as they went. At this juncture, O’Driscoll claimed Yorba tried to choke him, and then Yorba managed to fall over on O’Driscoll’s 8.5 inch hunting knife… twice. Two times. At this point, Mr. O’Driscoll thought it best to take a powder.

He attempted to flee the park, but Anaheim police were waiting for him at the exits. (Uniformed police were verboten inside Disneyland. Might break the magic spell and whatnot.)

In the meantime, Mel Yorba was sprawled on the ground bleeding to death. A registered nurse visiting the park applied pressure to the wounds in his abdomen and chest, nervously waiting for an ambulance in a critical situation where every second counts.  She waited a long time.

After twenty minutes, a Disney First Aid van (finally) arrived on scene. (It was Disneyland policy that an actual ambulance was not to be called to the park. No real-life intrusions were allowed at The Happiest Place on Earth.)

So, we’re talking a plain, everyday van without the needed medical equipment for a case like this and no sirens slowly making its way through Disneyland. This meant another 11 minutes before Yorbo could receive desperately needed medical attention. (The van’s driver later testified there was quire a bit of traffic that night.) Is it any surprise that Mel Yorba was pronounced dead on arrival?

A month after his death, which was the first murder at Disneyland, Mel Yorba’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Disney. It took five years for their case to come to trial, and then Disney weakly tried to claim it did have procedures in place for paramedics to be called in case of emergencies – they just weren’t called in this case because the nurse at the scene was inexperienced. (Is it a coincidence that this was the same nurse who testified it was Disney policy to not call actual EMTs to the park?) The jury said “nice try,” and ordered Disney to cough up a $600,000 settlement to the Yorba family.

While this trial was going on, a floor down in the same courthouse, James O’Driscoll faced second-degree murder charges in the death of Mel Yorba. The jury didn’t buy his story that Yorba just happened to roll over onto his upright hunting knife, not once, but twice – and found him guilty. He was sentenced to 16 years, which was reduced to eight in light of the fact that he had not technically started the attack. (Yorba threw the first punch, though of course O’Driscoll was chasing him at the time…)

Disneyland’s squeaky clean rep took a bit of beating because of this incident. To make matters worse, several incidents of preventable deaths followed, including one woman who died of a seizure, and a man who suffered a fatal heart attack. Both were transported to the hospital in the same ambling van Yorba was.

After meeting with County health professionals (who had been requesting such a meeting for quite some time,) Disneyland broke down and hired a professional ambulance service. Amazing what a bunch of wrongful death lawsuits will do to change a company’s outlook.

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  • This might have SOME credibility if the author knew the difference between Walt Disney WORLD and DisneyLAND. Hey, 3,000 miles is close, right? It’s not like we’re talking about asteroids, right?

  • Interesting, but very poorly written. (You could use a proofreader). There’s a difference between Disney World (and it is TWO words) and Disneyland–about 3000 miles. I was 2/3rds through the article before I realized you meant California for the setting (when you finally mention Anaheim). The outcome of the case is what is important, since now real medical personnel and equipment is used there and Anaheim paramedics must be called, making a visit to the Park much safer.

  • Lorrie the Lovely

    My brothers friends were there for Grad Night at Disneyland. According to Mel’s friends the girl lied to make her boyfriend jealous. It was Disneyland not Disney World. The nurse was not only Disney’s payroll, she just happened to be there. There have been other deaths….Read Mouse Tails. It will give you the darker side of the happiest place on earth.

    • Lorrie the Lovely? I guess “Lorrie the Uninformed” doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as nicely, huh?
      Maybe you should actually read from less biased sources about the deaths at Disney which include:
      1. A couple drunken buffoons stealing a maintenance raft from an employees only area and crashing it in the Rivers of America.
      2. A bratty 18-year-old insisting on staying on Tom Sawyer Island after hours without the foresight to figure out how he and his 10-YEAR-OLD BROTHER WHO /CAN’T SWIM/ are going to get off the island.
      3. A 19-year-old trying to sneak into the park on Grad Night by walking along the monorail track and getting subsequently crushed by the monorail.
      4. Two seperate incidents in which park guests, against safety regulations, decided to jump between carts on the PeopleMover, and fell onto the tracks instead.
      5. An idiot teenager who thought it was a good idea to have his friend undo his safety belt and try to stand up on the Matterhorn.
      Also, people who knew Mel Yorba assert that he got what he asked for, and was a low-life thug. After all, he was stabbed for sexually assaulting someone. And his family reportedly donated the money they wrung from Disney to a /homophobic/ baptist church in Riverside, CA.
      While a few Disney Park deaths are the result of park negligence, many of them are a result of guest negligence, with a few suicides and homicides sprinkled throughout. And every time Disney actually causes one of the deaths, they actually take responsibility and review their safety measures to ensure park safety. You cannot paint Disney as some evil corporation for having a small handful of deaths, many of which they are not responsible for. Every theme park has these issues, even those that are much smaller, more recently built, and having less guests and employees than Disney.
      It is Disney’s obligation to provide safety regulations and rules. If a majority of these people had just following the rules the park set forth, they could’ve left the parks on their own two legs, and not inside a body bag. It’s a little thing call Natural Selection.
      To quote a certain Tony Award-winning musical:
      They had it comin’! They had it comin’! They only had themselves to blame!

      • Seems like you’re just as “uninformed” you irrational imbecile. Mel Yorba was the son of a single mother, his ‘family’ never collected anything outside of the mother, he was also ‘not’ a “thug”, a word used by only the most hypocritical of white racists. He never “sexually assaulted” anyone, the man and woman whom had a laundry list of drug arrests were in that park with knives, both on meth and heroine, the woman “accused” Mel of pinching her ass which he didn’t do, the guy attacked Mel and got dropped, beat up, and then came back later and slashed him straight across the stomach. There was also NO nurse, he died in my hands, he didn’t die in the hands of a nurse, he died in the hands of an 18 year old drunk kid.

        Disney spent 5 years trying to buy us and the mother off, we had just seen our friend murdered by a drugged out idiot, Disney did very well in burying what happened underneath the massive amounts of ignorance by both the company, and its rampant dipshit fans like yourself.

        Disney, a company who’s founder was a Nazi sympathizer, and a well documented racist, a company that has billions invested into it from China, is absolute cancer, and so are the buffoons in denial of what actually happened, and how evil Disney actually is. For you to even worry where the money is donated just goes to show how much of a twit you are, most religions are homophobic, she donated the money because she never wanted money to begin with, she wanted Disney to change their policies and nothing else, when they refused they lost more than just the change in their policies.

        Don’t ever comment on this subject ever again, this event traumatized several people, Disney had to fork out millions in therapy for us involved because of it. I think its time you inform your immediate family that you’re a racist piece of trash that in post turn of the century still refers to people as “thugs”. This happened in the 80’s, not whatever time you came from, there were hardly “thugs” at Disneyland in the 80’s.