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Producers Gambled With Woman’s Life, Lawyer Charges : STUNT: Suit Over Blast

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Producers of the “Airwolf” television series “gambled with Desiree Kerns’ life and career” by having the stunt woman unknowingly detonate a gasoline bomb in a pickup truck while she was in the vehicle, her lawyer said Wednesday during a civil trial in San Fernando Superior Court.

Kerns, 33, suffered second- and third-degree burns on her face, scalp, neck and arm as she leaped from a pickup truck rigged with an explosive device in a 1985 stunt for the television series. She is suing the show’s director, producer, stunt coordinator and special-effects coordinator for unspecified damages.

In his opening statement, Kerns’ attorney, Gerald L. Kroll, told jurors that the show’s producers were “on a limited budget and running out of time,” so they set up the dangerous stunt “the cheap and easy way.”

Originally, the script called for a stunt woman to detonate a smoke bomb, then jump out of the truck. Cameramen were to film the truck explosion later, Kroll said, when there were no passengers inside.

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But to save time and money, stunt coordinator Ron Stein, one of the four defendants, decided Kerns would detonate the gasoline bomb while she was still in the truck so the shot could be filmed in one take rather than two, Kroll said.

However, Stein never told Kerns of the change in plans, fearing that Kerns, who had little experience with pyrotechnics and stunts involving fire, would refuse to perform the stunt. He told her just to “press the button and jump out of the truck,” Kroll said.

Defense attorney Thomas A. Foster denied that “Airwolf” producers ignored safety to save money. Foster said Stein and others discussed the stunt with Kerns several times and “she appeared to hear what was going on.”

A special-effects technician specifically told Kerns that she would detonate a gasoline bomb, Foster said.

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But when the 20-foot-high fireball engulfed the truck, Kerns was not wearing any of the standard safety devices used in pyrotechnic stunts, her attorney said.

“She had no protective clothing, no fire retardant wig or fire retardant gel for her skin. She did not request these things because she expected smoke. She had no reason to expect fire,” Kroll said.

Kroll said the accident occurred just as Kerns “hit the magic stride of her career that stunt people dream of.” After seven years in the business, she had daily stunt jobs and grossed about $200,000 a year, Kroll said.

Since the accident, he said, Kerns has not performed any stunt work.


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