[Editor’s note: Last weekend, we published a piece by Ron Garza discussing the suspension accident involving the Skin Mechanics Suspension crew and the Disgraceland Hook Squad at the South Florida Tattoo Expo. Here, Joe Amato of Skin Mechanics checks in to offer his own perspective on what occurred.]
I would like to start by saying to the entire suspension community that I am sorry for the way that I initially handled the situation surrounding Jimmy Pinango’s fall at the South Florida Tattoo Expo. At no point did I ever imagine what the rumor mill would make of the incident, nor did I foresee that the community would be so demanding. Most, though not all, of the people who demanded the facts from me are people that I had never had any interaction with before. I am not an active BME member and my MySpace account is for personal use. Given that I don’t expose myself as much as others in the suspension community, I hope that it is understandable that I was taken by surprise when people that I had never personally interacted with were suddenly demanding that I justify myself and my actions. Obviously, a response was due — I don’t deny this — but to be hit immediately with attacks rather than support clouded my judgment in a very trying time. In the aftermath of this incident, I did let my emotions get the best of me, and for that I am embarrassed. However, I am not going to defend any of my actions any further, as I feel that at this point moving forward, taking accountability, and taking something positive away from this experience are the most important things. I hope that anyone who still feels insulted about the lack of an official statement will feel better after reading this. If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to contact me. I am not in front of a computer every day, but I will respond if you consider how you are presenting yourself, and do so in a manner that is constructive.
Important facts about the suspension and what ensued
– All the hooks were still in Jimmy when he hit the floor.
– The 5mm cord used in the suspension had not broken.
– Calls were made to our friends Steve Joyner and Allen Falkner as soon as we had a team of people was in place to break down the show, and had gotten Jimmy safely to the hospital. We gave Steve and Allen all of the information we had at the time, and tried to concentrate on the rest of the weekend while we played the waiting game, as we were under contract to perform again the following day. At no time did we attempt to hide any information. Unfortunately, there’s no way for me to let you know that if I don’t know you, and again, I am not an active member of BME.
– We did return the next day and we did perform after making a substantial public statement to the convention and the mainstream media about the accident. We again released all of the information that we had, and worked to clear up the rumor mill that was already circulating on the convention floor. We had a crew of almost 35 people who were all hurting emotionally, and at this point, we still had not had one single minute to sit down and think with a clear head about what had transpired. It was not easy for me to go up there and take responsibility and talk about the situation in front of so many people when all I was able to think about was my friend — that I, as the head rigger on that suspension, had put him in the hospital, and I still didn’t know how he was doing. I did what I thought was necessary at the time to control the mainstream media, and keep the crew’s spirits up so that we could get through the next show.
– Jimmy was admitted to the ICU the day after surgery. Marrow from the broken bone had gotten into his blood, and caused a clot in his lungs. They dissolved the clot, and treated him for the marrow in his blood. [Ed. note: To clarify, in the accident, Jimmy only sustained a broken leg. His admission into ICU was from complications from the broken leg, not as a direct result of the fall itself.]
– In the days following the accident, we kept in contact with our friends in the community and tried to get the proper info out there. It was through talking to friends that I was able to come to the conclusions that I did about what had happened. The outside points of view were crucial because I was so consumed by all of the negativity, as well as the well-being of my crew and my friend, that I couldn’t think. Already, criticism was coming from many directions, and less than three days later I got fed up and made an unreasonably negative statement about the drama surrounding the situation. I put the only solid piece of evidence I had in that statement, and then proceeded to basically invalidate anything that came out of my mouth after that by being a jerk. That post did not last 24 hours. I took out my negative reactions and left up the pictures of the link for people to see. Keep in mind this was still prior to the appearance of the ModBlog article.
I understand there is a community of people out there, and all of you want to know what happened, but please try to understand:
Only two days had passed by the time there were multiple theories and rumors about the accident and nobody (except for Steve & Allen) even once asked me what had happened before posting their own theories. People still thought that the hooks came out, despite the fact that we had witnesses (including a doctor) who stated otherwise.
Three days later, BME members were criticizing and picking the event apart, and that’s when I think things went wrong. A lot of misinformed people started making bold statements that they had put together based on nothing more than a blurry night video. Then started the harassment.
Only six days passed before the ModBlog article was published, and this article essentially trashed my character, and even directed people (on one of the most visited peer-to-peer sites in the world) to harass me, and judge my character. Now, I don’t know how any of you would react to this treatment, but the harassment I’ve gotten from a community of people who are regularly subjected to prejudice, and therefore particularly wary of judgment, really surprised me. The level of harassment that I received certainly did not push me to share more information with people who were going out of their way to hurt me. I am not, nor do I want to be, a “rock star” anything. I have been content with just staying to myself in the five years my crew has been doing shows. In the midst of all of this, yes, I did make my MySpace profile for friends only. Nobody likes to be harassed and judged.
At the end of week one, hate mail was steadily coming in. Jimmy was still in the ICU. I, and a few others, were continuing to assess the situation and consult one another on our research and findings. Now at the end of week two, I am finally finishing up this report. Jimmy has been awake and is doing much better. He is out of the ICU and will hopefully be on his way home soon.
For the record, I have not received a single message via the ModBlog article that contained anything constructive. I am in no way, shape, or form trying to infringe on people’s right to free speech or press — write or say what you would like to. I also have nothing bad to say about Ron Garza for writing what he did. I have never met or even spoken to him, and because of that do not know what he is or isn’t qualified to do. I do wish that he would have contacted me prior to publishing his article in order to ensure that he was presenting information as reliably as possible, as there were a lot of inaccuracies that could have been corrected before the trigger was pulled, but the damage is done. In an effort to stay solution-oriented, though, the only thing I can do is hope that Ron will edit some of the malice from his article. I appreciate that people are concerned about the repercussions that could follow this incident, as I am equally concerned. However, we as a community have, in fact, made things far worse by starting an all-out war on the Internet. Through this lack of courtesy, and by largely lacking any attempt at solidarity, we have attracted only negative attention to ourselves.
I hope these facts and their timeline give you an idea as to why this has taken so long. It was never my intention to shun the responsibility.
Details on the suspension itself
First set: 300-pound monofilament line rigged dynamically, with fisherman’s knots connecting the line to the eyelets of the rig.
Second set: 300-pound monofilament line rigged dynamically with fisherman’s knots, this one a few feet longer than the one used in the first set. These lines were meant to break away, similar to a “cut down”. All the extra rig line was run, then bundled and taped to keep it from becoming tangled. The line becomes compromised quickly when you tie it without enough wraps in the knot, as the extra pressure on the line causes it to snap long before its working limit has been reached. (This is not the first time that I have used this rig line or used “breakaway” rigging. I myself had done a smaller version of this suspension in July.)
Third set: 300-pound monofilament line (same rigging and knots), this time a few feet longer than in the previous set.
Fourth set: 5 mm accessory cord rigged dynamically. This line was also bundled. This was meant to be the last portion of the act. The would come down onto this cord, and would stop dropping at this point.
Other equipment used:
– Six 8-gauge hooks were used.
– Six galvanized quick links were used (and had never been used previously).
– One 18-inch aluminum square stock rig with stainless eyelets was used as well.
The act, from start to finish, was intended to be a 6-point vertical back suspension, where the performer broke multiple stages of “breakaway” rigging, and finished when he hit the final stage.
We did not make it that far. The quick link failed a minute into the performance, and his rigging became long enough for him to hit the floor. These are still the facts about the rigging itself. None of the other equipment was compromised.
Why this happened
I believe that the link became side-loaded during the performance, which would explain the breaking strength exhibited by the equipment. This explains why the hooks did not break before the link. This seems a lot more likely than any other theory I have heard, because all the math in the world could not explain how a quick link could break before a hook. By working with the facts we have, my opinion is that this is the most likely scenario. I do not have 100-percent solid evidence, but I am working on it. We already have plans to purchase and break new links from the side-loaded and top-loaded positions, and then examine the way in which they open to see if anything matches up to the link in question. I will be taking photos and will post them as soon as I am done.
As for the link being defective, it is possible, but it is far less probable that this was the case.
What could have been done to prevent this accident
– Static rigging: This is always a good idea. This could have prevented this accident entirely. I have no excuse or justification as to why I did not rig this suspension statically. It certainly isn’t that I don’t have the experience, because we used static rigging all weekend, and had even connected six people this way just one day prior to the accident. Usually we use webbing for the rig line, and we had over 1,000 feet of it on site. I also even went out of my way to make steel cable static rigging for a suspension we were planning for the weekend. What it all really boils down to is that I made a mistake, and I didn’t use it.
– The hooks used: Granted, the hooks did not break, but they could have.
I am making a locking hook, modeled after Oliver Gilson’s original design, and cleverly called a Gilson Hook. They would have been ideal for this for many reasons.
1. They were designed for high risk.
2. They have a much greater breaking strength.
3. They will also fit a shackle.
– Quick links: Had I used the Gilson hook (above), a shackle would have been used instead of a quick link. As much as quick links have been a staple in our community, I really do believe that we need to reconsider the continued use of this item in any situation where movement could side-load it.
– Safety harness: My primary concern here was that during the performance the lanyard could have become wrapped around Jimmy’s neck. Simply cutting down at each stage would not have been dangerous, but with the rigging as it was, had a harness become wrapped around his neck before a level change, it would have broken his neck.
I hope this information is helpful to everyone, and that we can all take something valuable from it.
In closing, I am sorry for what happened, on many levels. I want it to be known that nobody associated with the accident, Skin Mechanics Suspension, Disgraceland Hook Squad, and our friends who came to work with us from other crews, ever intended to avoid any responsibility for what happened. I alone am responsible for the rigging, and yes — I accept the fact that I made a mistake. Had things been done differently, this suspension would not have resulted in my friend’s suffering, or the estrangement of my community.
Skin Mechanics Suspension
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