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Monday, December 28, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police May Review Disneyland Accident

Seattle Times Staff Reporters

The death of a Duvall man, who died Saturday from injuries suffered in an accident at Disneyland on Christmas Eve morning, may be investigated by homicide police even though it has been determined no crime was committed.

Police in Anaheim, Calif., home of America's original theme park, said yesterday they may review the accident because it now involves a fatality.

Orange County coroner's officials will join the investigation, and planned to interview witnesses and visit the riverside dock where the accident occurred today.

Luan Phi Dawson, 33, suffered brain injuries after a metal cleat flew off a replica tall ship and struck him in the head. His wife and a Disneyland employee also were struck by the cleat and remain hospitalized.

Mr. Dawson was a Microsoft software engineer who had just moved to a new suburban neighborhood in Duvall from Seattle's Rainier Valley, and was raising an extended family of children.

He had escaped Vietnam as a youngster, graduated from the University of Washington, and was keeping a long-time pledge to take his parents, his wife and the young children he cared for to Disneyland.

Mr. Dawson was kept on life support systems at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center until Saturday evening so an out-of-state relative could arrive at his bedside. But doctors said he was brain dead for several hours and had no chance of surviving what they described as a "very high energy blow."

Mr. Dawson and his wife, Lieu Thuy Vuong, 43, were standing in a ride line, reportedly with their young child and grandchild, when a mooring rope tore a foot-long metal cleat from the hull of the Columbia, the park's tall-mast sailing ship, and whipped it into a crowd on Thursday.

Disneyland worker Christine Carpenter, 30, suffered major injuries to her left leg in the accident.

Vuong is in fair condition in the intensive-care unit at the UC Irvine Medical Center.

Vuong, who underwent plastic surgery, was able to speak to family members yesterday and was informed her husband had died. She could be released within a month but may suffer permanent paralysis on the right side of her face, doctors said.

Mr. Dawson had escaped from Vietnam with his mother. The two emigrated to France, where his mother married an Englishman who adopted the boy.

He began his undergraduate studies in France but came to the Northwest to attend the UW, where he met Vuong, who had two children of her own. Those children are now 25 and 18, according to neighbors.

The two married about 10 years ago, and were raising their 5-year-old child and Vuong's 7-year-old grandchild.

A Microsoft spokesman would not comment except to confirm Mr. Dawson's employment. "We feel awfully bad about this," said the spokesman, John Pinette.

Neighbors said Mr. Dawson was helping develop Microsoft's new Office program at the Redmond campus.

Vic Dimailig, a former neighbor from Rainier Valley, said Mr. Dawson told him in the summer of 1997 that he wanted to someday take his family to Disneyland.

He said Vuong had worked in the pharmaceutical department at Providence Hospital, and that she liked to tend flowers in her yard.

In February, the family moved to a new development in Duvall, northeast of Seattle. Neighbors there said the couple were well-regarded, though not intimately known.

"They are genuinely nice people," said one neighbor who asked that his name not be used.

"They were both `people' people, very generous with their time and talent," said another.

Neighbors seemed eager to speak of the couple's thoughtfulness, but said they had been asked by Vuong's son to let the family grieve in private.

Relatives gathered over the weekend in California, staying at the Disneyland Hotel, to care for the youngsters and to keep vigil at the hospital. They issued a press release through the hospital thanking people in the Seattle area for their concern, and requesting prayers and privacy.

But privacy could be strained as media and government officials begin investigating the accident, which occurred on a holiday weekend at one of the world's most heavily visited tourist sites.

Disney officials would not answer questions.

"I would like to offer our most heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of Luan Dawson. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with his family as they try to cope with this tragic loss," Paul Presser, president of Walt Disney Attractions, said in a statement issued yesterday.

The river ride has remained closed since the accident. Park spokesman Ray Gomez said there has been no apparent drop in attendance at the park since the injuries occurred. He declined to say whether Disneyland is taking extra maintenance precautions.

The California Division of Occupational Health and Safety (Cal/OSHA) is looking into the accident, but only because the third victim was a Disney employee. That agency oversees workplace safety. Officials at Western Medical Center in Anaheim, where Carpenter was listed in good condition Saturday, have since declined to give updates.

Orange County Supervising Deputy Coroner Rick McAnally said his office's investigation will document the cause of Mr. Dawson's death, but will not determine whether negligence or a criminal act occurred.

Disney has been criticized in books and by some employees for failing to adequately maintain its equipment - charges park officials deny. The theme park also has been the subject of controversy because its rides do not fall under state or county safety regulations.

Mr. Dawson's death is the first at the park in a ride-related accident since 1984, and reportedly the ninth since the park opened in 1955, although Disney officials would not confirm the total.

Christine Clarridge's phone message number is 206-464-8983. Her e-mail address is: cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times reporter Tan Vinh and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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