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Creator of Crashes Killed on Film Set

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Film producer H.B. Halicki, a scrappy independent whose car crash movies won him a cult following, was killed in an accident on the set of a new film in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, authorities said.

Witnesses told police that Halicki, 48, of Gardena, died when a cable that was attached to a water tower snapped and severed a telephone pole, which fell on him.

Halicki was wrapping up shooting on “Gone in 60 Seconds II,” a sequel to his 1974 movie, which became a cult hit among fans of crash movies. He had been forced to buy $8 million in insurance to make the sequel after a local official accused him of lax safety planning.

Just hours before his death, he told the Associated Press that a close call while performing a stunt in another movie had made him more cautious.

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“You can always have chase sequences where things go wrong,” he said. “You have to be careful.”

Sunday’s shooting in an abandoned industrial park had called for a tractor-trailer to crash through a series of parked cars before ramming into a support for the 100-foot-tall water tower, bringing it down.

Workers had just made cuts through one of the tower’s supports, according to witnesses, when the tower began to creak. Workers scrambled out of the way, but Halicki was unable to escape the falling pole.

In making the original “Gone in 60 Seconds,” Halicki needed cooperation from police and fire departments in half a dozen communities. Halicki played a car thief, but it was the non-stop car crashes and chases that caught the attention of audiences. The movie featured a 40-minute police chase during which 93 cars--48 of them police vehicles--were destroyed. The movie’s title refers to the time it takes to steal a car.

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In 1982, Halicki again responded to the siren song of car crashes in “The Junkman,” an orgy of smashing, crashing and exploding vehicles--a project longer on twisted metal than on story line.

But the film led to an off-screen crash between Halicki, several theater chains and a reviewer, after the the film was mistakenly advertised with an R rating, keeping out the teen-age audience the movie was intended to attract.

“I had problems as an independent getting (“Gone in 60 Seconds”) played in theater chains, and it still went on to become the 21st largest grossing film of (1974),” Halicki told The Times in 1982. “I just can’t believe I’m running into the same problems again.”

He maintained that “The Junkman” was pulled from theaters even though its box-office gross was stable while other films still being showed were faltering.

“Despite bad reviews and the theater chains rating me R in the newspapers, on theater recordings and on their marquees, the facts speak for themselves,” he said.

Shortly before he was killed, Halicki said he no longer did many of the stunts in his movies.

“I still do some of them, but I don’t do any of the hard ones,” he said. “I still enjoy getting in the car and racing it out or doing the crashes in it, but I’ve limited it down.

“I’ve had some very close calls. I had a head-on collision with an airplane on my last film. We hit at a combined speed of over 200 m.p.h. and we crashed the plane and put about 80 stitches in my head. I was very lucky.”

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