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Friday Morning Edition

Questions mount in Wrestler's Death

McMahon faces suit calling fatal stunt "Reckless and depraved"

Thunder Report

Volume 4, Issue 474 - June 18, 1999
Editor's Note: These stories were published Tuesday and Wednesday respectively in the Calgary Sun:
Tuesday, June 15, 1999

Questions mount in Wrestler's Death

'We suspect no one but we suspect everyone'

By RICK BELL -- Calgary Sun

KANSAS CITY -- Why did Owen Hart die?

A few weeks ago, the answer tripped quickly and mournfully off many tongues.
Horrible, yes.
Tragic, for certain.
But an accident.

Nobody talks that quickly anymore.

The police don't.

They're considering the possibility of criminal negligence.

I'll let Maj. Greg Mills, head of the Kansas City Police Department's violent crimes division, do the talking.

"We went into this thinking it was all an unfortunate accident. We thought we'd get to that conclusion right away. But now I'm not comfortable stopping at this point. I have concerns about the type of equipment used for the stunt and how well Mr. Hart might have been trained. In looking at the rigging, I have a concern about whether this was the safest way to do the stunt. I have to ask: 'Was it really right for the job?' We suspect no one but we suspect everyone. No one was pushed, no one was pulled. But we are looking at whatever happened when Mr. Hart was suspended over the catwalk."

I ask how serious an investigation his department is doing.

"This IS an investigation, a unique investigation," says the major. "Did anyone know what they were doing? If we find someone was reckless, well, they could be held accountable by the prosecutor."

Maj. Mills says in Kansas City this kind of accountable is spelled INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER. Reckless conduct causing death. Up to seven years in the pen.

The violent crimes division is taking this most seriously, concludes Maj. Mills.

Yes, to understand how serious this all is, you have to understand Kansas City, America's Cowtown. Many here in this roll-up-your-sleeves city are proud of the fact this has been a wrestling hotbed for decades. They can list off past wrestlers like some of us rhyme off the names of hockey players. On May 23, many of these same people headed over to Kemper Arena, down by the stockyards in a working man's area known appropriately as the West Bottoms.

They went to buy their beer and their barbecue sandwiches and cheer on Owen. In more ways than one, this is truly the Heartland.

Yes, nobody talks that quickly anymore.

This city will watch today's announcement of a wrongful death lawsuit, a move which could cost Vince McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation and insurance companies, upwards of $500 million US.

Owen's wife Martha, his brother Bret, his dad Stu and mom Helen are here with a legal team headed by Kansas City courtroom heavy- hitter Gary C. Robb, who will try to establish one fact: Negligence. They will go over every fact from the time Owen ascended to the catwalk high above Kemper Arena to the moment he waited, suspended in midair, and then that sickening split-second snap causing Owen to descend to his death. They will ask about the quick release, the teardrop shaped ring that ultimately defined Owen's life. They will, no doubt, ask about the provisions for a backup system. They will take many depositions, including, it is expected, from wrestling whiz McMahon, a kind of Don King without the personality or the hair. They will ask a million questions in front of a jury of ordinary men and women in this Midwest city priding itself on friendliness and fairness. And, as they ask, what will the fair and friendly see? They will see Owen, the perfect family man, the nice guy, the fellow who was going to move into his dream home and soon quit the grappling game.

The man who rushed home to be with his two young kids, the wrestler who played practical jokes on his peers while they laughed right along. They will see Owen's young widow, Martha, who must now live without her childhood sweetheart.

"I want the truth to be known and justice to be served," says Martha behind sunglasses, stepping into a Lincoln limo with blacked-out windows on her way to legal meetings accompanied by Owen's brother, Bret (The Hitman) Hart, and a plainclothes cop.

"This is not a position I wanted to be in. It is not pleasant to be here. This is not a good atmosphere. I just can't help thinking about the accident over and over again."

As Martha lives with her future, the World Wrestling Federation is playing their past. The closed lip. "We haven't been served with a lawsuit and we don't have any comment until then. Call me later in the week," advises WWF spokesman Jim Byrne.

For now, the questions go on.

"It really boils down to one thing," says an obviously overworked Maj. Mills. "What caused this to happen?"

The answer is not clear. Nobody talks that quickly anymore.

Wednesday, June 16, 1999

Fight of his life

McMahon faces suit calling fatal stunt 'Reckless and depraved'

By RICK BELL -- Calgary Sun

KANSAS CITY -- Vince McMahon is in the fight of his life. And it is all very real.

At 9:01 a.m. yesterday, Calgary time, Martha, Stu and Helen Hart filed a 118-page wrongful death lawsuit against 13 defendants, charging unsafe equipment was used, no proper training was given and no special precautions were taken for the stunt ending the life of wrestler Owen Hart.

The suit -- being argued by Kansas City lawyer Gary C. Robb, who won $350 million US in a helicopter crash lawsuit -- also claims safety was consciously ignored so wilder stunts could be done to attract bigger pay TV and ticket dollars. The suit calls the conduct of the defendants "wanton, willful, callous, reckless and depraved."

"Our legal and factual allegation is that Owen Hart died because this makeshift contraption was totally inadequate for this intended purpose," said attorney Gary Robb. The lawsuit contends the device he wore was grossly inadequate and that the WWF failed to provide a safety net and harness and backup cables.

Owen's widow, Martha, made an impassioned plea before reporters. "Make no mistake. Wrestling is a show and it's fake. Professional wrestling has become a showy display of graphic violence and sexual themes and ever more dangerous stunts," said a tearful Martha. "Owen has died and there is nothing I can do to bring him back. But one hope above all is that his death will not be in vain. I believe those responsible should be held accountable under the law."

Those sued include the World Wrest-ling Federation, its parent company Titan Sports, WWF chairman Vince McMahon and Vince's wife, Linda McMahon, who's also WWF president. Other defendants are designers and manufacturers of the stunt equipment used by Owen, four riggers who worked on the stunt and the City of Kansas City, which owns the Kemper Arena where Owen fell to his death May 23.

No dollar figure is set for the lawsuit, though Robb will ask a Kansas City jury for what is "fair and reasonable." Fair and reasonable could hit $500 million, say several informed Sun sources. Robb says Owen was placed in a "makeshift contraption" high above the ring and the wrestler unintentionally set off the release cord while adjusting his cape, worn as part of his Blue Blazer costume. >Robb says a movement of Owen's shoulder caused a slight 6 lbs. of "pull tension" triggering the release cord sending Owen hurtling to his death eight storeys below.

The lawyer, among the most famous trial attorneys in America, says the equipment was wrong for the stunt -- a hook attached to Owen Hart's vest is usually used in the rigging of sailboats and Owen's release cord was taped on with duct tape.

At the news conference, family members did most of the talking. Bret spoke of Owen as the only good thing about the WWF, Helen talked about how much she missed her son, the baby of the family. But Martha, looking at once feisty and frail at a table draped in black, occupied centre stage. You knew this was a time and place she could not have imagined. Martha spoke of her children growing up without their dad, she talked about her own loneliness, how she missed Owen and how good Calgarians and people in Kansas City had been.

There was a black and white photo of Owen and the kids sitting on the table as she spoke. It was crystal clear who is the bad guy in Martha's mind. "The WWF has deliberately chosen to promote profit at the expense of the safety of its performers," she said, raising her voice. Martha spoke once again about how horrified she was when they hauled Owen's dead body out of the ring and continued the show. "It demonstrates the mindset of the WWF and Vince McMahon."

And so it ends. For now.

The family says it will say no more, except in court. The WWF have yet to defend itself in the press.

Reporters from Calgary, Kansas City and a guy named Lou from Penthouse magazine, are ready to pack up and wait as this case moves ever-so-slowly through the courts.

Martha, her voice softening, thanks Owen's fans throughout the world and speaks for her dead husband. "Owen would have been so moved. He has touched so many lives."

This is going to be one helluva fight.

Thunder Report

Mike Tenay and Legendary Larry are our hosts for this pre-recorded program.

Texas Hangmen vs. The Country Boyz - the latter come out without their "I Hate Rap" theme tonight for some reason. I heard some good things about the Hangmen beforethey showed up in WCW but so far they haven't been that impressive. In this one they start strong but it only lasts until after the second exchange with Curt Hennig. Duncum is tagged in and is overwhelmed by the concerted double-team attack of his adversaries but again that is only a brief interlude before he fights his way out of their corner and gets the tag to Hennig. From there is is a matter of moments before Hennig gets the Hennig Plex and the pin. The Rappers make a token appearance by attacking after the match. Cut to commercial.

Video review of the Geezers vs. the Young Lions feud thus far.

Scotty Riggs vs. Disco Inferno - these two are actually pretty evenly matched - but of course it is Disco who is higher in the hierarchy at the moment. After a strong start, Riggs finds himself on the receiving end through much of the early going He finally uses his mirror gimmick to lull Disco into distraction and thus gains a little ground. He showboats when he's on top of course, and tosses Disco to the floor. Disco regroups and gets a sunset flip coming back in but Riggs is still on top of things and escapes then follows up with a clothesline. He grabs a reverse chinlock. Disco escapes and goes for the Last Dance, but Riggs has this one scouted and wiggles away. But then he walks right into a swinging neck-breaker and almost gets pinned. Riggs roars back and reasserts his control for a bit. Eventually he is caught climbing the corner and upset. A kick to the gut sets up the Last Dance and the pin. Cut to commercial.

Master P's entry into WCW is profiled.

Prince Iaukea vs. Evan Korragous - Young Mr. K has been getting a little push lately - this would seem like an ideal chance for him to step up a notch. The match barely gets started when we step out for a commercial.

The Prince is out on the floor and backpedaling as we return. He takes his time returning to the ring and manages to assert himself as he does. The Prince is clearly taking the heel role here - he grabs the referee's shirt to hold his balance during a sunset flip attempt. The Prince is in control now and tosses his opponent to the floor. He waits for Korragous to try and come back and knocks him off the apron then following him back out. Korragous lives up to his name (even if he can't spell it correctly), holding his own as Iuakea tries to take cheap shots. Back in the ring the Prince grabs a side headlock. Korragous escapes but the former TV Champ is all over him and maintains his advantage. Just when it looks like he is going to lose the match, Korragous comes back with a surprise roll-up and takes the pin. Cut to commercial.

La Parka/Silver King vs. Hugn Morrus/Bian Knobbs (w/Jimmy Hart) - the First Family tosses both of their opponents out of the ring to start things off. It then sorts out to Knobbs vs. Silver King. There is no contest here and Morrus comes in to continue that assault on the Luchadore. Morrus misses a big elbow drop and the larger of the two Mexicans comes in to clean house. Now the Luchas are tagging in and out and Morrus has yet to recover from his mistake. Eventually he does recover and then it is all downhill for the Luchadores. La Parka is sudued and Pit Stopped. They are both on the receiving end except for a brief comeback shortly before the end. Knobbs uses a chair on Silver King to break that one up (Hart had the referee tied up). Morrus ends the match with a big moonsault. Cut to commercial.

Barbarian vs. Booker T - this is Booker's first match on TV coming off of his injury. Good to see him back - pound for pound he is arguably the most talented man in the sport. He starts with a hammerlock which is elbowed out of. They criss cross and Barbarian is knocked out of the ring. Booker wisely wait for him to return rather then go face the bruiser in his own territory. Back inside, Barbarian is out maneuvered and kicked out of the ring again. This time Booker takes the opportunity to follow him out and knock his head together with Hart. This proves to be a mistake as the Barbarian weathers he assault then roars back. Booker is being rolled back into the ring as we cut to commercial.

The Barbarian is still in control as we return - he has his opponent grounded and is using his superior size to good advantage. He distracts the referee so that Hart can do a little choke job on the apron. Barbarian drops his man again and slaps on the reverse chinlock. Booker is hanging in there but he's not going anywhere as the big guy continues to work him over. Booker appears to be going out under the influence of this sleeper/chinlock - but he fights his way back to his feet where his opponent tries to suplex him but Booker reverses the move and gets free. A flying forearm gains him the advantage and a Harlem Sidekick gives him a two count. He goes for an ax kick but Hart trips him and Barbarian gets his own boot to Booker's face and sends him to the floor. He drags Booker back inside and tries a cover but no cigar. A final whip to the corner gives Booker the chance to float over into a sunset flip and get the pin. Cut to commercial.

A video montage shows us how Sid Vicious returned to WCW after six years away. Cut to commercial.

A replay of the the Geezers vs. Young Guys 8-man tag match from Nitro ends the program.

That's all for tonight. I'll be back on Monday night. Until then...

At least that's the way I see it...

Earl Oliver
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter

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