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Slips happen, but taggers are rarely hurt

Some fall, some get hit by cars, but authorities don't see an increase in incidents from spray-painting.

June 24, 2008|Andrew Blankstein and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writers

How hazardous is the daredevil tagging that takes place on local freeways?

That's the question motorists might be asking after a man apparently spray-painting graffiti on an overpass fell Saturday night onto the 5 Freeway in East Los Angeles.

Authorities said such accidents occur but remain fairly rare despite taggers scaling ledges to commit vandalism high above roaring traffic.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Det. Sean Moreno said he had heard of taggers getting injured once every couple of months from falls or being "clipped by a car."

"It really hasn't been too drastic compared to the past," Moreno said of recent activity. "Let's put it this way: Nothing's stood out like, 'I can't believe they did that.' It's pretty much the same.

"They figure how can they make their piece and how many people can see it -- how much public traffic goes through so their tag can be seen," he said of taggers.

The latest accident comes about three weeks after Cyrus Yazdani, alleged to be a prolific tagger who goes by the moniker "Buket," was arrested on suspicion of causing as much as $150,000 in property damage.

Yazdani is perhaps most recognized for a YouTube video that allegedly shows him climbing and spray-painting an overpass on the 101 Freeway near Melrose Avenue as traffic speeds below.

Moreno said a tagger was fatally hit by a car in the South Bay this year while attempting to spray paint a median area.

In a high-profile incident a decade ago, a 19-year-old man fell from a 405 Freeway bridge on which he was spray-painting. Daniel Ryan Supple, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of vandalism, was sentenced to write a letter to San Fernando Valley high school students explaining how seriously he was injured.

Supple, who fractured his spine in the fall, was sentenced to three years' probation, had his driver's license suspended for a year and was ordered to pay $1,518 to cover the cost of cleaning the graffiti off the bridge near the Skirball Center Drive exit.

The phenomenon of daredevil tagging is not confined to Southern California.

In April, a 14-year-old tagging suspect in Melbourne, Australia, suffered serious injuries, including a broken jaw and other bone fractures, in a fall from a roof while allegedly spray-painting buildings on that city's south side.

In May, a 24-year-old man suffered a broken back and assorted head and internal injuries after falling from an abandoned multistory building in Bristol, England.

Roger Gastman, who has co-written books on the tagging culture, including "Street World: Urban Culture and Art From Five Continents," said that among taggers, where they put their tags is not as important for building a reputation as consistency and what he called "their art."

"Starting a career as a daredevil makes it harder to get a good reputation, because you have to work at it so much harder to bypass your early claims to fame," Gastman said. "With anything in the community, if they keep at it and their art is good and their art gets better, then they'll be respected. If they come in for six months and do it, then no one cares -- 'He's just trying to get a quick reputation.' They might be skilled, but they're trying to get a quick reputation and quick notoriety."

In the Saturday incident, authorities said that witnesses said the man appeared to be spray-painting along the freeway. But they stressed that detectives are investigating the incident and that he has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

Several motorists told authorities that the man had possibly broken his back about 9:45 p.m. and that he was clutching a can of spray paint as he lay on the freeway near the Main Street off-ramp, said California Highway Patrol spokesman David Porter.

Porter said the man was taken to a hospital, where he was being treated. His name was not released.

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andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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