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Leap lands divers in deep troubles

Roy James Stevens says parachuting from the top of a building is like "jumping into freedom." It's quieter than jumping from a plane, and it gives an adrenaline rush that's "like ecstasy."

But Stevens' jump for ecstasy on Sunday landed in front of an off-duty police officer, Tampa police said. A few hours later, Stevens was in jail.

Stevens and a partner, Jack James Burke, were charged with trespassing at a construction site after they jumped about 40 stories from the C & S Bank Plaza, police said.

Officer Joe Caravella, who was hired to provide security at the downtown building's construction site, said he was at the foot of the building when he heard the parachutes open. He followed the jumpers as they fell.

"I admire their zest for life," Caravella said. "But they should do it at an approved facility. Jumping from that building was not safe."

Stevens, a 30-year-old skydiving instructor from DeLand, and Burke, 24, who did not have a permanent address, said they met a drunken construction worker at a bar Saturday night who showed them how to get to the top of the building. They said they don't know the man's name.

"I didn't sneak in," Burke said. "The gates were wide open."

He said they used special parachutes that open quickly at low altitudes. "We take every safety precaution we can, and we consider ourselves master parachutists. We just take it one step further."

Stevens was released from the jail Monday after posting $1,000 bond. Burke still was being held Monday evening in lieu of $1,000 bail.

Caravella said parachuting from a building is probably legal. But trespassing at a construction site can lead to five years in jail or a $5,000 fine.

Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole said his department has received several reports of people parachuting from downtown high-rises, but Stevens and Burke are the only people who have been caught recently.

The jumpers "are pretty good at sneaking onto the property, doing their thing and getting away," Cole said.

Parachute jumps from buildings are popular with a handful of thrill-seekers, said George Kabeller, owner of the Phoenix-Zephyrhills Parachute Center in Pasco County. They like the challenge of sneaking to the top, jumping from a low altitude and running away before police arrive, he said.

"It's a small group in the country that does that," Kabeller said. "It's really not encouraged in our sport. It's almost like a stunt."

A spokesman for the owner of the C & S Bank Plaza did not return a telephone call Monday.

Managers of other high-rises said Monday that they have security around the clock to prevent people from getting to the top of their buildings.

"We have no fear of that happening," said Barbara Carter, property manager of Tampa City Center. "With the way we keep it locked up, there is no way they could get up there."

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