By David Cuillier
The call came over the police radio Saturday afternoon as a gang fight. Bloods and Crips, a bystander reported. Ready to shoot it out underneath the Interstate 205 bridge.
A half-dozen sheriff's deputies a police dog and some off-duty officers rushed to the scene, just south of state Highway 14. But they didn't find hardened outlaws.
They found bungee jumpers: recreational outlaws.
Curious thrill-seekers and members of the Eugene-based Dangerous Sports Club chose the bridge deck as the spot to plunge 100 feet toward hard dirt - only to be safely snapped up by a bungee cord.
But, as usual, the afternoon was cut short by officials. The bridge wasn't intended for that use, the Washington State Patrol said.
"It's a hazard for the people using the bridge crosswalk and the motoring public," Sgt. Dan St. Pierre said. "The highway department won't condone this use."
"Well, this spot is gone," Casey Dale, leader of the sports club, said.
Dale, dressed in black slacks and a white tuxedo shirt, was Saturday's "bungee master." His group has been asked to leave from a half-dozen other bridges, mostly in Oregon, he said.
"It's really weird being recreational outlaws," he said. "I can understand their concern about liability, and I'm concerned, too. That's why we have such a safe system. We're working on legitimacy for the sport."
Next time, he said, the group will find another bridge and maybe a permanent launching pad. Because to Dale, bungee jumping is more than a weekend fling.
He was the stuntman in the Oregon Lottery's bungee jumping commercial that caught flak two weeks ago. The commercial was filmed at a southwest Portland bridge where two people had committed suicide the previous month.
"Bungee jumping from that bridge was unfortunate," Dale said. "But what people don't know is that I donated the $358 I was paid to the suicide hot line."
His system is safe Dale said. He uses four bungee cables tied to a body harness at chest level. An electric crane-like winch pulls the jumper back up to the platform.
"The main thing is the perception of risk," Dale, a Eugene psychologist and youth counselor, said. "It's very empowering for people to take risks. It's very ego-building."
"Yes, sir," said Dale Foster, a 22-year-old electronics technician from Silverton, Ore.
Foster paid $100 for two jumps Saturday. As he prepared for his first jump, cables secured and helmet strapped on, he looked down. His knuckles were white from grasping the rail.
"You mean, I just fall down?" he asked the bungee crane operator.
"Take the plunge, just like the Nestea commercial," the crane operator said.
"I should have listed to my mother," Foster said.
Foster let go of the railing and fell backward, his eyes bulging like two eggs sunny side up.
"We call that the face of bungee," Dale said. "He's got good face. Good face."
When Foster was towed back up to the bridge he was grinning.
"Once you're falling everything disappears" he said. "It's scarier than hell. It's great."
Another first-time jumper 22-year-old Allen Thordarson, agreed with Foster.
Thordarson, a senior at Washington State University, drove to Vancouver Saturday with 10 of his classmates to bungee jump.
"It's very intense," he said. "On the way down I was thinking, whoooa. What a good time. It's better than drugs.
Until a permanent site is found for bungee jumping, Dale and his Dangerous Sports Club will move from bridge to bridge to free-fall. The sport isn't illegal, he said, but officials stop the jumping because they don't want to be liable for accidents.
"It's the proverbial fly-by-night operation," Dale said. "It's growing in popularity. I was the first in the Northwest and now there are a half-dozen groups in Oregon alone. But everyone is having to be a pirate."
No one has been injured bungee jumping with the sports club, he said. And a lot of people have had fun.
"Looking down at the ground as you fall. . ." he said. "It's a real rush."