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Universal Orlando changes thrill ride; Two guests hurt by loose objects

Universal Orlando has at least temporarily changed a popular Harry Potter-themed thrill ride following two recent accidents in which guests were struck by loose objects -- including one who ultimately lost his right eye.

Universal Orlando said Wednesday it has stopped simultaneously launching a pair of intertwined, suspended-seating roller coasters that together make up the "Dragon Challenge" attraction in Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park.

As a result, the coasters no longer pass within feet of each other as they advance along the track, in near-misses that have long been a hallmark of the attraction.

The move comes as Universal investigates the causes of two separate accidents in two weeks in which guests were struck by unidentified objects while riding.

"As we continue to study these incidents, we will operate both coasters as separate experiences without their usual intersection points," Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said.

Schroder said Universal officials have conducted a "thorough review" of Dragon Challenge and "believe the ride itself did not play a role in these incidents."

"We are not going to speculate on what caused these incidents," he added. "We will continue our long-standing policy of advising guests to safety secure personal items before riding."

The first accident occurred July 31 when Carlos Montalvo, 52, of Puerto Rico was hit in his right eye while sitting in the front seat of one of the coaster trains.

"At some point, when the coasters came together, something struck him in the eye and lacerated his right eye," said Clay Mitchell, an Orlando lawyer representing Montalvo.

Mitchell said Montalvo lost all vision in the eye and was forced to have it permanently removed this week.

The lawyer said his client was already "virtually blind" in his left eye.

A second rider was hurt last week. Orlando television station WKMG identified the rider as Jon Wilson, 19, of Ohio and said he was hit by something on his foot, arm and face while riding Dragon Challenge last Thursday.

"My sister was sitting next to me at the time, and when I said I was hit, she thought it was a bug or something, but then she looked over and I had blood on my hands, so it was obviously something more," Wilson told WKMG.

Dragon Challenge has been in operation since Islands of Adventure opened in 1999, though it was originally known as Dueling Dragons. The ride was re-themed with a Harry Potter storyline and incorporated into Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in June 2010.

"They've got a problem out there with things flying out of people's pockets and off their person. And because the coasters come together so close," those objects hit other riders, Mitchell said. The lawyer said Montalvo hasn't decided whether to sue Universal.

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