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Brown's horrific fall won't be forgotten

August 04, 2007|Beth Shuster | Times Staff Writer

I've seen some terrifying things as a reporter in Los Angeles: bank robbers dead on the street; teachers and priests convicted of child molestation; houses burning to the ground.

But watching skateboarder Jake Brown fall more than 45 feet at Staples Center on Thursday night was probably the most terrifying.

I was there as a mom: I had given my son, a skateboarder, tickets to the X Games for his birthday. We took along two of his buddies. (My daughter and I joked beforehand: "Me and 10,000 boys.") We arrived early, the boys wanted to see the skaters practice. The place was buzzing, the music pumping. Dirt bikers (who were competing later) were racing their engines.

The Skateboard big air mega ramp was right in front of us. We couldn't believe how huge it was -- we'd only seen it on TV.

The event began and, as I text messaged my daughter: "I actually said 'Woah' and cheered." It was pretty awesome.

Brown, 32, nailed a 720 over the 70-foot gap in the ramp. (That's skater speak for a really complicated move.) The place was amped -- kids were cheering, clapping.

Then Brown lost control.

Arms and legs flailing, he fell through the air, flipping over and landing on his back. His shoes flew off his feet. He didn't move for what seemed to be five very long minutes.

Staples went silent. No one, it seemed, took a breath. Mouths were open, eyes wide. We were frozen.

Surrounded by medical personnel and others, Brown finally moved. The place erupted, but the sound was somehow muted. He walked, with help, and left the arena. I relived it over and over and over. All night long.

My son switched places with his friend so he could sit next to me. One of the boys called his older brother. The other called his father. I put my arm around my 14-year-old's shoulder and he didn't shrug it off. Do I tell him: You are never skateboarding again (which is what I was thinking) or do I tell him: Get back out there but wear all your pads and your helmet? Instead, I said, "Thank God he's alive and he's going to be OK." I could only hope this was true.

Next up was Bob Burnquist. He skated his best -- winning the gold. When he finished, he knelt on one knee, eyes closed. We were all there with him, thinking about Brown.

Driving home, the boys were excited. It was great, they said, thanking me several times. "My favorite part," said one, "was when," he stopped speaking, lost in thought. What was his favorite part? None of us could think about that. All we could think about was what we had witnessed. So we talked about what we had seen. My job is to interpret events -- that's what I do as a journalist. But how do I interpret this one?

I couldn't make a preachy statement about wearing a helmet -- Brown was wearing one. I couldn't talk about skating only in places designed for it -- Brown certainly was doing that. I couldn't say he shouldn't have tried this trick -- it was his to try.

So we talked about how scared we were. How we thought he might have died. About whether he would have a broken leg or worse. (We learned Friday he remains hospitalized after suffering contusions of the liver and lung, stress fractures in his vertebrae and a small fracture on the top of one hand. Amazing.)

And when my son left Friday with skateboard in one hand and helmet in the other, I realized sometimes there's only one thing to say: Be careful. Be really careful.


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