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Questions mount in Hart death


By RICK BELL -- Calgary Sun
  KANSAS CITY -- Why did Owen Hart die?
 A few weeks ago, the answer tripped quickly and mournfully off many tongues. Accident.
 Horrible, yes.
 Tragic, for certain.
 But an accident.
 Nobody talks that quickly anymore.
 The police don't.
 They're considering the possibility of criminal negligence.
 I'll let Maj. Greg Mills, head of the Kansas City Police Department's violent crimes division, do the talking.
 "We went into this thinking it was all an unfortunate accident. We thought we'd get to that conclusion right away. But now I'm not comfortable stopping at this point.
 "I have concerns about the type of equipment used for the stunt and how well Mr. Hart might have been trained. In looking at the rigging, I have a concern about whether this was the safest way to do the stunt. I have to ask: 'Was it really right for the job?' "
 "We suspect no one but we suspect everyone. No one was pushed, no one was pulled. But we are looking at whatever happened when Mr. Hart was suspended over the catwalk."
 I ask how serious an investigation his department is doing.
 "This IS an investigation, a unique investigation," says the major. "Did anyone know what they were doing? If we find someone was reckless, well, they could be held accountable by the prosecutor."
 Maj. Mills says in Kansas City this kind of accountable is spelled INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER.
 Reckless conduct causing death.
 Up to seven years in the pen.
 The violent crimes division is taking this most seriously, concludes Maj. Mills.
 Yes, to understand how serious this all is, you have to understand Kansas City, America's Cowtown.
 Many here in this roll-up-your-sleeves city are proud of the fact this has been a wrestling hotbed for decades. They can list off past wrestlers like some of us rhyme off the names of hockey players.
 On May 23, many of these same people headed over to Kemper Arena, down by the stockyards in a working man's area known appropriately as the West Bottoms.
 They went to buy their beer and their barbecue sandwiches and cheer on Owen. In more ways than one, this is truly the Heartland.
 Yes, nobody talks that quickly anymore.
 This city will watch today's announcement of a wrongful death lawsuit, a move which could cost Vince McMahon, the World Wrestling Federation and insurance companies, upwards of $500 million US.
 Owen's wife Martha, his brother Bret, his dad Stu and mom Helen are here with a legal team headed by Kansas City courtroom heavy- hitter Gary C. Robb, who will try to establish one fact: Negligence.
 They will go over every fact from the time Owen ascended to the catwalk high above Kemper Arena to the moment he waited, suspended in midair, and then that sickening split-second snap causing Owen to descend to his death.
 They will ask about the quick release, the teardrop shaped ring that ultimately defined Owen's life. They will, no doubt, ask about the provisions for a backup system.
 They will take many depositions, including, it is expected, from wrestling whiz McMahon, a kind of Don King without the personality or the hair.
 They will ask a million questions in front of a jury of ordinary men and women in this Midwest city priding itself on friendliness and fairness.
 And, as they ask, what will the fair and friendly see? They will see Owen, the perfect family man, the nice guy, the fellow who was going to move into his dream home and soon quit the grappling game.
 The man who rushed home to be with his two young kids, the wrestler who played practical jokes on his peers while they laughed right along. They will see Owen's young widow, Martha, who must now live without her childhood sweetheart.
 "I want the truth to be known and justice to be served," says Martha behind sunglasses, stepping into a Lincoln limo with blacked-out windows on her way to legal meetings accompanied by Owen's brother, Bret (The Hitman) Hart, and a plainclothes cop.
 "This is not a position I wanted to be in. It is not pleasant to be here. This is not a good atmosphere. I just can't help thinking about the accident over and over again."
 As Martha lives with her future, the World Wrestling Federation is playing their past. The closed lip.
 "We haven't been served with a lawsuit and we don't have any comment until then. Call me later in the week," advises WWF spokesman Jim Byrne.
 For now, the questions go on.
 "It really boils down to one thing," says an obviously overworked Maj. Mills.
 "What caused this to happen?"
 The answer is not clear. Nobody talks that quickly anymore.

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