Relatives grieve after fatal bungee accident

Frederick County man, 21, dies in Switzerland

May 16, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

WALKERSVILLE -- Hours after Matthew E. Coleman called home Saturday from a 10-day vacation in Switzerland to wish his mother a happy Mother's Day, Swiss authorities called to tell the family he had died during a bungee-jumping outing that his mother had discouraged.

The 21-year-old was killed when he slammed into the ground after he was tied to an elastic rope that was too long, officials said yesterday.

The jump was organized by Interlaken-based Adventure World, the company that ran a canyoning expedition in central Switzerland last summer during which 21 people were killed in a flash flood.

State police in Bern and the investigating Swiss judge said the two guides who supervised the jump from a gondola were being investigated on suspicion of negligent homicide.

As news of the accident spread through this town of 5,000 just outside Frederick, friends and neighbors left a basket of flowers and several bouquets on the front steps of the family's red-brick, green-shuttered home.

"You just don't know how many friends he had," said Diane Bernoske, Coleman's aunt, who lives in Damascus. "There were so many friends that were gathered, and people kept talking about that. He was just an all-around good guy that people enjoyed being around. He had a good sense of humor and he was very likable."

Bernoske said she and her relatives considered Coleman the rock of the family. "He was always just a solid figure to be there for everybody," she said. "He was just a strong person."

After graduating from Walkersville High School in 1996, Coleman took occasional courses at Frederick Community College and for several years was a Coca-Cola merchandiser, shelving sodas and building the company's displays in stores around town.

"He was a good worker and a nice kid," said Safeway manager John Murphy.

Coleman had recently quit his job to look into going back to school full time. He had been waiting tables at a Frederick restaurant in the meantime.

He and several friends decided to visit a friend studying in Switzerland. The group was supposed to return from the 10-day trip yesterday.

Instead, Earle and Sharon Coleman and several family members traveled to Switzerland to bring home their son. Through a family friend, the Colemans said they expect to return to Maryland on Friday, depending on the pace of the investigation.

Police said it was clear from a photograph of the jump that the guides had attached the cable, marked in red, that is meant for jumps from higher points. Each jump from the gondola is photographed, police said.

A second rope, marked in green, is carried in the gondola and is meant for the shorter jumps, the statement said.

Coleman was the first in his group of seven to jump from the gondola, police said. The car stops in two places, one 330 feet above the ground and the other 590 feet above the ground. Coleman chose the lower stop. He hit the ground next to the parking lot of the cable car ground station and died instantly.

Adventure World has stopped all tours and shut its Web site, posting a message saying, "Management and Staff from Adventure World are deeply saddened by the bungy accident that took place in the Lauterbrunnen Valley Saturday afternoon. We offer to the family and friends of the deceased our sincere condolences."

A notice posted last summer after the flash flood deaths included a company profile, saying it had served 28,400 clients since its founding in 1993 and that its team of guides "consists of experienced Adventure-professionals from all parts of the world."

In addition to his parents, Coleman is survived by sisters Allison, 13, and Elizabeth, 15; grandparents Mel and Pat Denu of Damascus and Jim Herrmann of Urbana; great-grandfather Jack Broyles of Frederick; and many aunts, uncles and cousins. Memorial services will be planned when the family returns from Switzerland.

Sun news researcher Sandy Levy and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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