Disney to cut scene after teen's death Lying in road shown in film

October 20, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- In light of the death of one teen-ager and critical injuries to two others, the Walt Disney Co. said yesterday it will take the virtually unprecedented action of removing the scene the young men apparently imitated from a feature film.

The scene in the current movie "The Program" shows college football players attempting to prove their mettle by lying in the middle of a highway as cars whiz by. It will be removed Friday and the film's coming-attraction trailers will be pulled from theaters, the studio said.

In the real-life incidents, two teen-agers in Pennsylvania were struck by a pickup truck, killing one and seriously injuring another. The parents of the dead boy said he was copying the scene in "The Program." A 17-year-old was in critical condition yesterday in New Jersey, where a police detective said the teen also was mimicking the scene when he was struck Saturday night.

Film industry sources could not recall any similar move by a major Hollywood studio. Yesterday's announcement came amid a climate of growing concern about the connection between pop culture and incidents of violence, and as a Senate hearing on TV violence begins today in Washington.

Disney's Touchstone Pictures division and the film's writer-director, David S. Ward, said in a statement that, while the scene in the movie "in no way advocates this irresponsible activity, it is impossible for us to ignore that someone may have recklessly chosen to imitate it."

"We are deeply moved by the tragedies already reported and our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those involved."

The studio said it expects by Friday to replace the film reel in which the scene occurs with one that has the scene removed on all 1,222 prints of the film, which is currently being shown nationwide. It stars James Caan as a hard-driven college football coach.

Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti called the decision to delete the scene unusual and "a statesmanlike thing to do." Referring to the copycat nature of the reported incidents, Mr. Valenti said, "I'm not one who believes that a movie makes you do anything."

Patty Shingledecker, the mother of the dead man, Michael Shingledecker, 18, of Stoneboro, Pa., said her son saw "The Program" last week.

"Michael would never come up with this on his own. He was adventurous but not stupid," she said. About 200 people attended his funeral service at Grace United Methodist Church in Rocky Grove, Pa., yesterday.

Dean Bartlett, 17, who also was hit by the truck, remained in serious condition yesterday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

"I thought it was a good movie," said Dean's brother, 16-year-old Joe Bartlett. "I never expected anything like this to happen," he said.

Witnesses told police the Pennsylvania teens were following through on a dare when they went to the two-lane state Route 62 in Polk, about 70 miles north of Pittsburgh.

The Shingledecker youth did not play on the high school football team.

In the second incident, authorities said Michael Macias of Syosset, N.Y., was copying the scene from "The Program" when he was injured. The Macias youth is a high school football player.

The driver of the car that hit Michael Macias, 17-year-old Margaret Ruffrano, said she saw a group of about 50 youths standing on the shoulder of the road. As she slowed down, she hit the youth, police said.

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