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Skydiver died fulfilling her passion

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story contains information that has been updated or corrected since the story first appeared online or in print. See the note below for an explanation.

Debbie Laws found her friends in the sky.

The Zephyrhills resident liked to jump out of planes for fun.

"It was recreational for her. It let her get away," said T.K. Hayes, who owns Skydive City in Zephyr­hills. "See, with skydiving, it's not about skydiving. It's about hanging out with friends, about making friends, and it was no different with Debbie."

On Friday, Laws was part of a 35- to 40-person formation jumping during the Christmas and New Year's Skydive Boogie, a three-week event that attracted 800 skydivers from all over the world.

Something went wrong with the 5:30 p.m. sunset jump. Laws and another jumper collided in the air, and Laws fell to her death. She was 48.

• • •

The last thing 72-year-old Walter Huminsky remembers is jumping out of the plane.

From his hospital bed on Monday, the Lansing, Ill., resident said he knew Laws well. They had jumped together before.

"It's tragic," he said. "One of us made a mistake, but we'll never know who actually made it."

After the collision, both jumpers' parachutes opened. Most parachute packs include a pressure-sensitive device that will deploy even if the jumper is unable to pull the ripcord.

Huminsky landed just north of the landing zone, and suffered a mild concussion and broken left wrist. He was likely to be released today from St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Although Huminsky said he felt like "someone hit me with a truck," he also said he plans on jumping again as soon as he's able.

Laws, who had logged more than 900 jumps, was found in a dry retention pond near the bottled water plant and the Zephyrhills City Golf Course. She was taken to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, where she was pronounced dead.

"She was fun, free-spirited girl," Hayes said. "She was used to living in the moment, like most skydivers do."

Hayes said this was the first fatal free-fall collision at the facility, but added that there have been nine deaths in the last 13 years there.

• • •

Laws, a waitress originally from Anna Maria Island, is survived by her parents, two adult children, and grandchildren.

She didn't make a living skydiving, Hayes said. But she made a small living so she could skydive.

She lived with few possessions in a trailer park just a stone's throw from the Skydive City landing zone.

Hayes said the Skydive Boogie event will continue as planned through Sunday. However, as with any death in this extreme sport, jumpers have taken on an extra measure of caution.

On Saturday, an "ashes jump" is planned, where Laws' remains will be spread during a jump at 13,500 feet.

Laws' son is expected to tandem jump with the memorial group.

She had so many friends, Hayes said, that there may not be room on the plane for everyone who wants to take part.

"I knew her very well, and I got upset when it happened," he said. "If you jump long enough, you're going to know someone who's died during a jump."

Mike Camunas can be reached at mcamunas@sptimes.com or (352) 544-1771.

CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story used in print and online incorrectly identified Walter Huminsky's hometown.

Debbie Laws

Born: Feb. 1, 1960.

Died: Dec. 26, 2008.

Services: Laws' ashes will be scattered during a special jump at Skydive City scheduled for Saturday.

Skydiver died fulfilling her passion 12/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 3:49pm]
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