Bungee jumpers claim constitutional right But 2 lawmakers want statewide ban

February 17, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Bungee jumping buffs have a message for two Anne Arundel County lawmakers who want to ban their sport: Take a flying leap.

"It's ridiculous. It infringes on our constitutional rights. They can't tell us we can't jump," said Dan Reisinger, a bungee enthusiast and co-owner of Vertical Venture, a Pennsylvania-based company that wants to open a bungee center in Ocean City this summer.

Mr. Reisinger said he and other buffs will trek to Annapolis next month to fight the proposed ban. "You can tell [those lawmakers] to put their freaking gloves on because we're coming down there to fight this."

What has Mr. Reisinger so mad is legislation introduced by state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, a Ferndale Democrat, and Del. W. Ray Huff, a Pasadena Democrat, that would make bungee jumping in Maryland a misdemeanor crime beginning Oct. 1, punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail.

The bill, which has the support of state regulators, will be heard in the House Economic Matters Committee at 1 p.m. March 4.

The ban was requested by Maryland's carnival owners, who say county fair boards sometimes request bungee jumping be included on the midways. But the owners believe the sport is unsafe and want no part of bungee jumping.

"The owner or operator cannot really control what happens after a patron goes off that platform," said Tom Gaylin, president of the Maryland Showman's Association, representing the carnival owners. "There are just too many intangibles."

Ileana O'Brien, deputy commissioner of the Maryland Division of Labor and Industry, which regulates amusement rides, agrees.

"People from the bungee industry have said to us essentially that accidents will happen, that people will die and that that's an accepted risk," Ms. O'Brien said.

From her point of view, the risk is unacceptable. Proper equipment specifically designed for safe bungee jumping is not yet widely available, Ms. O'Brien said. That means bungee operators are using equipment, such as cranes, in ways they were not intended to be used, sometimes resulting in serious injury or even death.

Two men plummeted to their deaths last summer in separate accidents while bungee jumping from cranes in Michigan and Ontario. That gave numerous states pause to reconsider the sport, Ms. O'Brien said.

Injuries have also resulted. Last summer, a Delaware woman broke her back when she bounced face first into an air bag designed to cushion a backward fall, she said. Others received cuts and rope burns when they became entangled in the bungee cords themselves, Ms. O'Brien said.

"These are all things that we view as very inconsistent with amusement rides," Ms. O'Brien said.

Mr. Reisinger concedes there are and have been "unsafe" bungee operations, and that "1992 was a trying time for the industry."

But that only points to the need for stringent regulations and state inspections, he said.

"Those accidents could have been avoided if the industry was regulated properly."

Kevin Noone of Annapolis' Bungee Enterprises, which books its mobile platform at fairs in other states, said he believes Maryland regulators simply do not want to spend the time to research and draft adequate rules or to enforce them.

Companies like Vertical Venture and Bungee Enterprises already are turning to specially designed towers, rather than cranes, making their operations safer, Mr. Noone said.

But, he added, "The deputy commissioner personally doesn't think bungee jumping is safe and just doesn't want to allow it."

Even with stricter regulation, Mr. Reisinger concedes bungee jumping remains a risky proposition.

"If there wasn't an element of danger, people wouldn't want to do it," Mr. Reisinger said. "The old-type rides aren't fun anymore. People want to be scared. They want the adrenalin to pump through their bodies. That's what we give them."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.