Hard to believe it was 45 years ago that Evel Knievel fired up his Skycycle X2 and attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon. I watched the spectacle from the roof of a house on Falls Avenue in Twin Falls. My wife-to-be, Kelly Florence Jones, watched from the grounds of the old Holiday Inn, where KMVT-TV is now located. We did not meet until 16 years later and have been married for 25 years.
It looked to me like Evel pulled the cord on his parachute just after he cleared the ramp. I thought it was a case of cold feet. He did not want to splatter like a bug on the canyon wall over on the Jerome side. Whatever the reason, many of the folks who came from afar to watch were quite unhappy about wasting their money on the fizzled leap.
That evening the disgruntled folks took out their anger on the concessionaires, destroying their stands, drinking or destroying their beer and generally tearing things apart. Sheriff Corder did not intervene, telling the Times-News he opted to pull back and defend the city.
The concessionaires, including Harold Putzier, Bob Crandall and Antonio Guanche, filed suit against Evel, claiming he brought an unruly mob to town and should make good for their damages. Antonio had lost all the ingredients for the lambburgers he had tried with limited success to peddle and the miscreants had even cut his grill apart. These were determined vandals.
Evel’s insurance company brought suit against all concerned, claiming a riot exclusion in the policy let them off the hook. Jim May, the lawyer who did the legal work to set up the jump, called my Jerome law office to ask that I represent Evel because he would have to testify. I jumped at the chance of representing Evel.
District Judge Jim Cunningham, who I liked and respected, heard the case and ruled that there had indeed been a riot so the insurance company was off the hook, except for paying Evel’s legal fees for defending against the company’s lawsuit. Thanks to the good judge because Evel, being somewhat averse to paying his bills, had not paid a dime toward mine.
The event brought fame to Twin Falls and Idaho across the globe. When I later traveled to a number of European countries, as well as China, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and a number of other places, people would ask where I was from. Their eyes would light up with recognition when I mentioned Idaho potatoes and the infamous Twin Falls canyon jump attempt by Evel Knievel. Both were great ice breakers.
My wife, Kelly, is a writer, much more accomplished than me. For the 40th commemoration of Evel’s jumped she released a book of short stories, featuring a novella about Evel’s jump through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. The book portrays Evel for the person he was, rather than the image he tried to cultivate.
For anyone interested, the Idaho Supreme Court’s decision affirming Judge Cunningham–Foremost Insurance Company v. Putzier–can be found in the Idaho Reports at 100 Idaho 883. Kelly’s book, Evel Knievel Jumps the Snake River Canyon…and Other Short Stories Close to Home, can be found at the Twin Falls Visitor Center or on Amazon.