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Man Killed in Jet Ski Jump over Niagara Falls

October 2, 1995

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario (AP) _ A California stunt man trying to call attention to the homeless rode a Jet Ski over Niagara Falls and plunged 180 feet to his death after his parachute failed to open.

``His heart was in the right place,″ said Niagara Falls Park Police dispatcher Tom Detenbeck. ``He just picked the wrong way to demonstrate his point.″

Robert Overacker, 39, had been researching his stunt for seven years. He had a rocket strapped to his back that was supposed to propel him into the air before he opened his parachute.

It didn’t work.

Just after noon Sunday, Overacker, of Camarillo, Calif., rode the Jet Ski to the edge of Horseshoe Falls, threw his arms in the air and fell into the swirling waters below as horrified tourists snapped pictures.

``He let go of the Jet Ski and he went down, and the Jet Ski went out and that was basically it,″ Maggie Calabratta told a Toronto TV station.

Falling that far is ``like hitting cement,″ Detenbeck said.

Overacker’s watercraft bore the slogan ``Save The Homeless.″ Hours before the stunt, he videotaped a message about what he planned to do.

``I think the homeless situation and the way things are happening in this country is something that has to be rectified,″ he said. ``I’m going to go out there and give it my best shot, and see if we can make a difference in the United States.″

Police do not believe Overacker, who graduated from a California stunt school, was affiliated with any organization.

His brother, Michael Zureich of San Antonio, and a friend, Christopher Yeoman of Ventura, Calif., accompanied him to the falls to photograph and videotape the stunt, police said.

Police questioned Zureich and Yeoman for about three hours. The two were in shock and were released without charges.

Detenbeck said friends had tried to stop Overacker from performing the stunt. Once, his friends took the spark plugs out of his Jet Ski, Detenbeck said.

As Overacker rode toward the falls, a police officer spotted him and begged him to come back, but he refused.

The Jet Ski disappeared near the spot where a fiberglass barrel ended up after two people went over the falls in June. They survived, and faced up to $10,000 in fines.

Fourteen people have survived plunges over Niagara, while Overacker is the fifth person to die since 1901, the Niagara Falls Parks Commission said.

``I hate to see these stunters try things,″ said Lawrence McGinn, the assistant general manager for Maid of the Mist, which sent a boat out to recover Overacker’s body. ``I think the falls is going to win most of the time.″

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