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Daredevil Injured When Jump Goes Awry

Showmanship: Motorcyclist Bubba Blackwell, trying to hurdle 22 cars, crashes as 30,000 watch at Del Mar Fair. He is in critical condition.

July 06, 2001|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Motorcycle daredevil Bubba Blackwell regained consciousness but remained in critical condition Thursday with massive injuries suffered in a failed attempt to set a record by jumping over 22 cars at the Del Mar Fair on the Fourth of July.

Dr. Gary Schwendig, trauma surgeon at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, said that Blackwell's injuries are not immediately life-threatening, but that he is vulnerable to blood clots and infections.

"He has a long way to go before he's out of the woods, and any of these problems could kill him," Schwendig said. He added that Blackwell is able to move his arms and legs, but will remain on life-support systems for several days.

Schwendig said that Blackwell's life was saved by his helmet.

Blackwell, 34, billing himself as the "American Daredevil," has gained acclaim in recent years by breaking numerous jumping records set by the legendary Evel Knievel. In 1998, Blackwell jumped 20 cars, breaking Knievel's 25-year record of 19.

Dressed in his red-white-and-blue crash suit, Blackwell was taken by helicopter to Scripps after he landed short of the 22 cars and was thrown into the air as 30,000 fans packed into the fairground grandstand watched in horror.

"It was awful," said Samuel Sully of Lakeside. "We all thought he was dead; he was so still. Women were crying; the kids were hysterical. Nobody could believe it."

At Blackwell's bedside were his wife, Jamie, a championship horse-rider, and members of Blackwell's team.

Under his contract with the fair, Blackwell received $45,000 for the jump. He received another $17,500 for daily shows that began when the fair opened June 15.

His 22-car jump, heavily promoted on television and billboards, was meant as the finale to a night's entertainment complete with patriotic music by a Navy band and a fireworks display.

Blackwell, a resident of Bon Secour, Ala., is a favorite at the Del Mar Fair. In 1999, he jumped over 14 buses at the fair, breaking Knievel's bus record.

Although their names were often linked as premier motorcycle daredevils, Blackwell and Knievel cultivated different images.

Knievel personified the hard-living rebel, boastful and often difficult with the press.

Blackwell, a devout Christian, mixes well with the press and served as a star attraction for the fair. In February, he jumped over 14 semitrucks in Foley, Ala., in a fund-raiser that raised $10,000 for a park dedicated to children.

Like his idol Knievel, Blackwell rode a Harley-Davidson XR-750, a motorcycle considered too heavy and too cumbersome by many motorcycle daredevils.

His enthusiasm for jumping started when he was 5.

"As a kid, I set up a jump by lining up garbage cans," Blackwell told reporters in the days before Wednesday's accident. "My dad just sat back and watched. I cleared the jump and kept going from there."

Blackwell has appeared in numerous venues, large and small, since turning professional. In October, he performed a jump on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno." After Del Mar, Blackwell had been scheduled to perform in Twin Falls, Idaho.

His publicist, George Dassinger, suggested that the accident might have been the result of the motorcycle's not achieving the necessary 95 mph before launching into the air.

"He felt very confident about this jump, more than any of the other jumps," said Dassinger. "He knew Del Mar very well. He's very strategic. He checks everything out before a jump."

Doctors estimated that Blackwell's recuperation could take six months.

During his career, he had broken 22 bones before Wednesday, including breaking his collarbone, two ribs and a shoulder blade in a failed attempt to leap over 13 cars in Portland, Ore., in 1995.

"If there ever was an All-American hero, he's lying there in that hospital," said Blackwell's manager, C.K. Spurlock Jr.

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