Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2018

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Blame flies after fatal stunt crash

A bitter dispute has erupted in the wake of stuntman Butch Laswell's horrific death, with fingers pointing at everyone from the motorcyclist's manager to the paramedics involved with his rescue.

It is a debate to which there may be no answer, since the real story crashed an estimated 65 feet to the pavement with the man on the day he was to break onto Hollywood's silver screen.

Services for the 37-year-old Las Vegas native are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Davis Paradise Valley Funeral Home.

Minutes after Laswell's limp body was rushed by ambulance from the accident scene outside Si Redd's Oasis Resort in Mesquite about 3:40 p.m. Sunday, his closest friends blamed the wind for the failed jump.

Laswell's goal was to rocket his Honda CR500 off a 4-foot-wide takeoff ramp, up and over the resort's 38-foot-high pedestrian walkway that links a parking garage to its casino, and then land on a 12-foot-wide ramp Laswell was only able to see after he reached the 51-foot apex of his jump.

It would have beaten his best leap of 41 feet set in 1992 at Vacation Village and landed him in the world record book.

"He was a professional," said longtime friend Paul Frieze. "He'd done more than 6,000 perfect ramp-to-ramp jumps before. He knew what he was doing. I saw him get a little squirrelly up there, at the top ... the wind pushed him off course."

Laswell's manager, Douglas MacValley, contends the disaster resulted from a mechanical problem and a strategic error.

"I was the last one to talk to Butch before he jumped," MacValley said. "He had taken several runs to warm up the bike. He was worried about the wind.

"I told him he didn't have to do it if he didn't want to. He said something was wrong with his speedometer. ... The next time I saw him, he was up in the air, there was nothing I could do. He'd made the jump. I thought he was going to stop and try to fix his bike."

A defective speedometer could explain why Laswell was going at least 85 mph into the jump and reached 65 feet, MacValley said. The plan was to reach a maximum of 75 mph.

"The faster speed, the height and the wind pushed him too far," MacValley said.

The friendship between MacValley and Laswell goes back a few years when the two were employed by the Riviera hotel-casino's "Splash" stage show. MacValley at one time managed the show in which Laswell starred in the "Globe of Death" pyrotechnic motorcycle segment.

"This isn't the first time Butch had an accident working for MacValley," said Sal Murillo, who now manages the specialty acts for "Splash." "MacValley told him that day, 'You have a contract. You got to jump.' He couldn't care less about Butch. We're furious."

Murillo described MacValley as a man who "feeds off daredevils" to make a living. Yet MacValley said he "wanted only the best for Butch."

"He was my friend, he was like a brother," MacValley said. "We talked, he and I, about that day. He wanted to get in the movies; the movie people were there. He wanted the media; the media was there. He wanted people to see him; there were 23,000 people there and 1,000 bikers from many states. ... It was his dream, it had come true."

MacValley said the event cost Oasis $100,000 to put on, but because of private contract reasons, he would not confirm a report that Laswell would have only received $3,000 to jump. "He didn't do it for the money," MacValley said. "He loved to jump."

Laswell's friends have also commented that the stuntman was nervous hours before the event because of the wind and was under pressure from event organizers to please the crowd, which numbered in excess of 15,000.

"I didn't see fear in his eyes," said David Humm of Oasis, who served as event coordinator and announcer during Sunday's event. "I was with him from 10 a.m. until he jumped. ... I've played professional football in the NFL for years with some of the best guys. I know fear. But Butch wasn't afraid. He was calm and in total control."

Si Redd has promised to place a memorial at the bridge and name it "Butch Laswell Walkway." The resort's flags were lowered to half-mast in his honor. MacValley said filmmakers working on a project called "Navajo Blue," due out in spring 1997, will include footage from Laswell's jump.

Lt. Governor Lonnie Hammargren, a noted brain surgeon and friend of Laswell, has said he didn't feel the paramedics responding to the crash provided adequate support to keep the stuntman alive.

Hammargren was in the crowd Sunday, and was pushed away from Laswell's body by emergency personnel after the crash. He rode with Laswell in the Flight for Life helicopter, which transported him to University Medical Center, where a nursing supervisor said he was pronounced dead at 4:39 p.m.

Hammargren has stated publicly that a tracheotomy was necessary to keep Laswell alive, but was not performed by Mesquite paramedics. Laswell's skull and chest were cracked, authorities said.

Mesquite Fire Department deferred all comment on its team's rescue efforts to City Manager Bill DaVee, whose staff said he was out of town on business and could not be reached Monday.

Sherman Dwayne "Butch" Laswell is survived by his parents, Dwayne and Kay Laswell, and brothers Greg, Nathan and Steve Laswell, all of Madera, Calif.; and one sister, Marilynn Laswell, of Fresno, Calif.