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Motorcyclist Dies In Movie Stunt

March 12, 1996

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Butch Laswell decided to risk his life rather than upset his fans.

Gearing up for a record high motorcycle jump Sunday, his first movie appearance, Laswell knew that growing crosswinds made his stunt much more dangerous. But he didn’t want to disappoint the crowd by backing out.

Laswell raced his Honda CR500 up a steep ramp and zoomed over a 38-foot-high pedestrian bridge spanning a street between the Oasis Hotel-Casino in Mesquite and the hotel’s garage.

But crosswinds pushed him to the left of the second ramp. His motorcycle crumpled on the pavement, and he crashed to his death in front of movie cameras and thousands of spectators.

Promoter Douglas MacValley said Laswell purposely steered his motorcycle to avoid hitting the crowd.

``It was a noble act,″ he said.

Laswell had wanted to back out because of the wind, ``but there was so much pressure,″ Eddie Williams, a close friend and training partner, told the Las Vegas Sun. ``The people putting on the show, the agents, all the people watching. He thought if he backed out, no one would understand. He thought they would hate him.″

Laswell had planned to accelerate to 70 mph and clear the bridge by at least 10 feet. However, MacValley said he traveling about 85 mph when he reached the start of the ramp, and that he soared to a height of 58 feet.

MacValley said the speed and the wind combined to carry him off course.

``We tried to persuade him not to go through with the jump,″ said MacValley, who had been with Laswell 10 years. ``But he had the last call. We encouraged him not to go.″

``It doesn’t matter how good you are or what kind of bike you’ve got,″ Williams told the Sun. ``When you’re up that high, the wind has total control.″

Mesquite Police Chief Michael Murphy said it was Laswell’s decision.

``Everything was set for the jump and he had a window of opportunity to jump, but there was wind, and he was aware of that,″ Murphy said.

No estimate was available of the strength of the wind in Mesquite, a small town 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Laswell, 37, had been trying to break his personal best of 41 feet high and to set a world record. Representatives from the Guinness Book of World Records were in attendance.

The Las Vegas resident had done promotional stunts on motorcycles but was not well known in the area. The hotel said he had completed more than 5,000 jumps in 20 years of stunt jumping, and had a ``100 percent safety record.″

Motorcycle stuntmen Evel Knievel in 1967 and Gary Wells in 1980 failed at a similar stunt, trying to clear the 35-foot fountain in front of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Both recovered from their injuries.

Knievel’s son, Robbie, successfully completed the jump in front of Caesars on April 1, 1989. It was the last time someone jumped the fountains there.

Sunday’s jump was filmed for Laswell’s first try as a movie stunt man. MacValley said the movie is called ``Navajo Blue,″ but he didn’t know who was producing it or who is in it.

``He was happy because he saw this was his big break,″ MacValley said.

Oasis owner Si Redd said a memorial would be put on the pedestrian bridge and it would be named ``Butch Laswell Walkway.″

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