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Director Killed in Movie Stunt

By Michael McCann, Ph.D., C.I.H.

Movie producer and director Toby Halicki was killed on August 20 when a stunt misfired while shooting the motion picture Gone in 60 Seconds II in Tonawanda, New York near Buffalo. The stunt was going to involve the collapse of a 161-foot water tower. One leg of the water tower had been severed and support cables hooked to a bulldozer. The water tower collapsed prematurely, snapping a supporting cable. The broken cable pulled over a telephone pole which fell on Mr. Halicki, who was 70 feet from the base of the tower, and killed him.

There had been considerable controversy about the safety of the water tower stunt. The Town of Tonawanda had required an 8 million dollar certificate of insurance, and a signed statement from the production company, Ronald Halicki and Project Films, Inc., agreeing to "assume all risk of loss, damage, or injury to persons or property", according to Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Ronald Moline.

Halicki's death raises questions about the adequacy of safety procedures for the stunt, and even whether the stunt should have been attempted in the first place. The collapse of the water tower could have been done on a smaller scale model, according to stunt experts.

This fatality also feeds the growing concern that the drive for realism in television and motion pictures in recent years is unacceptably killing people, not only stunt people, but also actors, camera crew, and others. (See Art Hazards News Vol. 11 Nos. 4 and 10, and Vol. 12 No. 4) This year alone, seven people have been killed in film stunts: five during filming of "Delta Force 2" in the Philippines in May, stuntman Clint Carpenter during a helicopter stunt while filming "Hired to Kill" in Corfu in June, and Toby Halicki in August. In addition, stunt coordinator Joel Kramer recently broke his back during a high fall stunt while filming in Mexico. It is becoming increasingly clear that the entire question of how and why stunts are being done in television and motion pictures has to be reexamined.

- reprinted from Art Hazards News Vol. 12 No. 7

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