RIP Lost Tom

Image: Facebook

The Burning Man blog has a lengthy eulogy about Tom LaPorte aka “Lost Tom”, a captain of the media team who passed away last week. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends, vale Lost Tom from Burners. We will pour one out for another fallen comrade.

There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe Tom and the effect he had on everyone who had the privilege to know him: Loving, kind, passionate, selfless, inspirational, collaborator, confidant, innovator, gentleman, mentor, the real deal, a class act, community organizer extraordinaire, an embracer of the chaos, “a grown-up amongst us kids,” and, to everyone, a dear friend. He truly loved people, individually and collectively. He found the best in everyone — and touched everyone.

…Tom’s first year at the Burn was 2005 as a member of Bop Camp, a fun-loving crew of Chicago Burners that had somehow achieved Esplanade frontage offering an ungainly jousting experience utilizing motorcycle helmets and stuffed animals duct taped to PVC pipes. He dove in with gusto, cheering the burning of the Man dressed as the ace of spades, his first and only costume of choice.

[Source]

According to Tom’s friends on Facebook, his first year at Burning Man was actually 2004.

He came up with the idea of broadcasting the BMIR radio station live from the Man base in 2009, the year he and his Chicago Crew took over Burners Without Borders camp and turned it into what it is today.

The playa was never big enough for what Tom had to offer. When participants left the event in 2005 to help communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Tom followed. He immediately grasped how Burners could do work that matters not just in the desert but in the hearts of communities everywhere. In fact it was what he had been doing himself for years, bringing creativity to the streets of Chicago and creating unlikely connections.

Tom came back from Katrina and started promoting Burners Without Borders in Chicago, and suddenly all his projects became BWB projects. He was constantly pushing the boundaries of BWB. He initiated the Chicago takeover of BWB Camp in 2009 and turned the camp into what it is today.

He also started the Music Box Project, his attempt at explaining “Cultural First Response” to the world. Musicians could become first responders themselves and give the art of healing through music in the hardest of times.

[Source]

It doesn’t seem like anyone responded to the Cultural First Responder idea. I always thought Burners Without Borders was more about “send in DPW Heavy Machinery” than sending actual Burners in to, well, hang out and play guitar and stuff. Whatever it is we Burners do when in a group setting such as Burning Man, or the Standing Rock protests.

Coincidentally [ding], when Hurricane Katrina struck – being watched live via military satellite from the Playa – and Burners Without Borders was formed in response, Tom had gone to Burning Man to spend 2 weeks setting up an emergency broadcast system.

Image: Facebook

So his first second year at the Playa, he shows up with pre-recorded Public Service Announcements to hand out as part of a test of a pop-up emergency broadcast system in a place with no cell service. Because if it’s one thing everyone brings to Burning Man, it’s CD-ROM drives. This was an “art” project that several many people thought was worth spending 2+ weeks on. They tested it on Tuesday, Katrina hit on Thursday – and by Monday Tom was off to Katrina, large sum of money having been raised. Then he headed straight back to Chicago to found Burners Without Borders.

Where is that Emergency Public Service Announcement system today? Would’ve come in handy during last year’s false Amber Alert.

“Temporary art serves its purpose, it goes away and mankind goes onto the next step. It’s like a shooting star, it’s really beautiful, then it goes away, but the poetry doesn’t stop. We’ve found a way to achieve collective poetry, to achieve creativity in a group. It’s no longer the age of the lone genius working in isolation, waiting for the great discovery. It’s people working together, discovering stuff together, realizing what they have, taking time to celebrate it, but wondering what’s around the next bend.”
-Tom LaPorte (1953-2017)

 

Lost Tom died of heart failure, aged 63. He previously had a heart attack on the Playa.

Colleagues and friends are mourning the passing of Tom LaPorte, a versatile and innovative communicator over four decades throughout Chicago media. LaPorte, who was 63, died Wednesday of heart failure, according to multiple reports. He most recently served as Chicago’s assistant water commissioner and spokesman for the department. Before that he was webmaster for CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780, webmaster, editor and managing editor of former all-news WMAQ, and producer and news editor for news/talk WIND AM 560. LaPorte also headed media relations for Burning Man Project, a nonprofit arts and performance festival, and taught broadcasting and production at Columbia College Chicago. A graduate of Southern Illinois University and six-time Peter Lisagor Award winner, he began his radio career as public affairs director and news anchor at WCIL in Carbondale, Illinois.

[Source]

Communications guru Tom LaPorte reveals the five steps of persuasion artists can use to win attention from collectors, the media, and the public. He also provides a plethora of other practical advice, from how to write a press release to how to incorporate video and live presentations into one’s marketing.

“Artists, by their natures, are often not drawn to aggressive self-promotion…. The ability to communicate through the conventional channels, to get your work known, to get yourself known as an artist and build your communities is something that takes a little bit of practice. Just as your art does.”

Tom LaPorte is a public relations and communications expert based in Chicago. LaPorte was born in Boston in 1953, and his family moved to Chicago in 1960. He earned a Associate of Arts degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric from the College of DuPage in 1976, and Bachelor of Science in Speech Communications/Radio-TV from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1979. LaPorte held positions in the radio industry for approximately twenty years, including as a writer, producer, and manager of a news room. In 1996 he began working with the Internet, spearheading an effort to audio stream that year’s Democratic National Convention. LaPorte worked as a writer, editor, and webmaster for WBBM-AM for several years before becoming Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago in public and media relations. He spent nearly thirteen years in the role before leaving to act as an independent consultant. Since 2004 LaPorte has also coordinated media relations for Burning Man, an annual festival which brings approximately 68,000 artist-attendees to the Nevada desert. Through the festival, LaPorte acts as a pro bono consultant for artists and creatives of all types.

[Source]

Lost Tom was an Elf to his college roommate Jim Belushi’s Santa-con:

Long before his interest in Burning Man, Tom was already a Chicago legend. As Jim Belushi’s college roommate and partner in mischief, he went around to the Albanian homes in the suburbs dressed as “Frostbite the Elf” to Jim’s blotto Albanian Santa.

[Source]

dartmouth10n-2-web

Tom encountered Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies (not Albert Hofmann of the Trippies) as a teen with a high school radio show, before rising up to use the infamous Chicago political machine as a force for good:

Tom embodied the best of Burning Man before he ever set foot on the playa. He was first and foremost a storyteller. Inspired by an interview he did with political and social activist Abbie Hoffman for his high school newspaper during the Chicago 7 trial, he pursued a career in journalism, working for some of the top Chicago media outlets, eventually working for the City of Chicago as Assistant Water Commissioner, where he honed his second strength — collaboration — working with residents, local businesses, community and church groups to leverage the infamous Chicago bureaucracy and political machinery for the forces of good. He always looked out for the less fortunate and those in need.

[Source]

Lost Tom was involved with trippy visuals for the Grateful Dead and something called The Human Avatar Project:

Tom was a founding member of the Burning Man Chicago Steering Committee, which gave rise to the local Burner 501c3 Bold Urban Renaissance Network. He created and led art teams at the Rothbury and Electric Forest music festivals; Second Thoughts, which made videos that opened up for Bob Dylan and the Dead; The Human Avatar Project and Einstein Moments, which created participatory creativity games.

[Source]

There is only one festival, Electric Forest which is in Rothbury, Michigan.

The Human Avatar Project is a way for billionaires to achieve immortality by merging with the Internet. It has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. It seems like the same idea as the “Singularity” being promoted by Billionaire Burners Elon Musk and Those Wacky Google Guys.

Image: Daily Mail

Image: 2045.com

In Tom’s case I think it’s more likely they were talking about this art project:

Image: Facebook

Einstein is someone you should have Second Thoughts about for a moment. There are a couple of amazingly coincidental [ding ding] links between Einstein and the Sixties counter culture that spawned the Grateful Dead, as we explored in 50 Years of Flower Power. Wavy Gravy aka Hugh Romney used to take walks around the block with Einstein as a child; Ram Dass aka Richard Alpert’s father George founded the Albert Einstein College of Medicine…but that’s another story.

Lost Tom’s Einstein Moments was an Electric Forest art project, perhaps symbolic:

Image: Facebook

Sounds like Lost Tom was quite a character to be part of the Burning Man media team, rising in the ranks to Captain, and a pillar of the Chicago Burner community. Rest In Peace, or come back to be born into a new life and a better future. May your flame burn on forever.

 

RIP Spoono [Update]

ticket 1998

One of the DPW crew and a founder of Black Rock Solar and Burners Without Borders, Scott Stephenson aka “Spoono” passed away on the Playa last night. He had been up in Gerlach and on the Playa since April. Pershing County officials said he appeared to have died of natural causes.

It sounds like he was a hard worker and generous to his mates. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Re-blogged from Voices of Burning Man:

Image: burningman.com

Image: burningman.com

Burning Man announced today the loss of beloved Department of Public Works staff member Scott “Spoono” Stephenson. Spoono passed away overnight on the playa, in the city he loved most.

Stephenson was in his late 50s and died of apparent natural causes, according to Pershing County officials. Stephenson had been in Gerlach and on the playa since April supporting construction of Black Rock City. His passing will have an enormous impact on the Burning Man community.

“Spoono has been a fixture of our DPW since 2005,” said Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell. “In 2005 he was one of the first to depart for Mississippi to help residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, working, among other things, as a cook for the team that grew to become Burners Without Borders. He will be missed by many of us including myself.”

Spoono was a founding crew member of Black Rock Solar, working tirelessly to install solar arrays across Nevada for those who would benefit most — schools, hospitals, tribes, and other non-profit organizations — for six years. He’d been a runner for DPW’s purchasing department for 10 years and cooked for work weekends for equally as long, as well as handling cooking for early arrival crews on the ranch for several years. He was on point to cook for the Man crew when we had to rebuild the man in 2007.

“Spoon was a deeply generous man, with a huge heart, who gave so much love and care though his food,”  said Tom Price, one of the founders of Burners Without Borders and founding Executive Director of Black Rock Solar. “He was a miracle worker with food — I once watched him feed 15 volunteers for a week with only $50. He always worked himself to exhaustion, but didn’t have a lick of quit in him — there was never a morning you woke up he didn’t have coffee on, strong enough to strip paint. And if you were really good, or really lucky, it came with a side of piping hot beignets.”

Spoono embodied the best of Burning Man values and culture. He was generous to a fault, giving all that he had to the community he loved. He will be missed by all who knew him.

Burning Man is providing support and grief counseling to staff and volunteers on the playa during this difficult time.

Plans for a celebration of life and memorial service will be announced shortly.

More coverage at the Reno Gazette-Journal.

[Update 8/22/15 11:26am]

NBC reports that the cause of death is under investigation.

Pershing County Sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Stephens told NBC News that a man died on the site, but declined to identify him and said the cause of death was under investigation.

BREAKING: Woman Dies at Burning Man [Updates]

This just in, we will update the story if we get more details.

[Update 9/1/14 7:14pm]

The most recent version of events:

The art car was towing a trailer with heavy equipment including a generator. Burning Man founder Marian Goodell was on board, the accident happened just in front of First Camp. The 29 year old woman, Alicia Cipicchio from Wyoming, tried to jump on the bus while it was moving to climb a ladder to its roof, between the bus and trailer. She died at the scene. The driver has not been accused of any wrongdoing in what sounds like a tragic – and preventable – accident.

Preventable? Don’t try to jump on a moving art car, Burners.

Our condolences to Alicia’s family and friends – may she rest in peace. It seems that the Burner community came together, with the neighbors looking out for her distraught camp-mates.

Burner Gary said:

Dear Fellow Burners,
I’m attaching a very personal note we received from Alicia’s friends and campmates. This amazing act of kindness started the healing process for everyone. Our two camps met, shared the sadness, prayed and hope everyone understands this was a tragic accident, not reckless driving.

As you may know, Alicia tried to jump on the trailer ladder while the bus was moving and fell in between the bus and the trailer (apologies for being direct).

Our deepest sympathy goes out to everyone and please never jump on a moving art car, tragic accidents happen in a split second.

Please send your positive thoughts and pray this never happens again.

alicia note

 

 


 

From the SF Chronicle:

embrace and man and sun08-28) 08:49 PDT BLACK ROCK DESERT, NEV. — A woman died at Burning Man in northern Nevada early Thursday after she was run over by a bus carrying participants, authorities said.

Details of the crash were not immediately released, but Burning Man co-founder Marian Goodell described it as “a terrible accident.”

The victim’s name has not been released pending notification of her family.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and campmates,” Goodell said. “Black Rock rangers and emergency services department staff are providing support to those affected.”

The 500 rangers managed by organizer Black Rock City LLC are patrolling the art and entertainment event in addition to 95 federal and local law enforcement officers. Burning Man officials said they were working with the Pershing County sheriff’s office in its investigation of the death.

In 2003, Katherine Lampman of Belmont died at the event when she fell from an “art car” and was run over by its wheels. Lampman, 21, was a student at the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and an aspiring photographer.

Some 68,000 people are arriving in the Black Rock Desert about 120 miles north of Reno for the annual weeklong event. The gates opened Tuesday after a rainstorm hit the region, closing the festival Monday on its opening day.

The Shagadelica Bus

The Shagadelica Bus

The Art Car involved was Shagadelica, a double decker bus covered in fur. The incident appears to have happened just after midnight Thursday morning, in front of Center Camp and the keyhole. Burning Man updated their Facebook group with the news around 5am.

Fox47 News has a video story here. They are reporting that the woman fell under the bus and was run over.

From Reuters:

The woman, whose name and age was not immediately released, may have been riding on the bus before she fell under the wheels and was run over by it, said Sheila Reitz, dispatch supervisor for the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office.

Looking at the photo of bus, it’s easy to see how someone might fall off the top, but harder to see how they would then get run over. Perhaps she fell from the doorway?

[Update] 8/28/14 12:06pm

The 29-year old woman from Wyoming has been identified, From KRNV news Reno:

PERSHING COUNTY, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — Pershing County officials have identified the victim of Thursday morning’s deadly bus incident at Burning Man.
 
According to a press release from Pershing County authorities, Alicia Louise Cipicchio — a 29-year-old resident of Jackson, Wyoming — suffered fatal injuries early Thursday morning after falling under a large vehicle at the annual Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.

Event officials, including representatives of Black Rock City, the Bureau of Land Management, and Pershing County Sheriff’s Office express their condolences and sympathies to the family, friends and campmates of the victim. Support is being provided to those affected by the tragedy.

Organizers are working with investigators from Pershing County Sheriff’s Office to determine the series of events leading to the incident. Anyone with information that may assist in the investigations is asked to contact (775) 273-2641.

 [Update 8/28/14 4:42pm] 5 Time Burner has shared a better photo of the Shagadelica. It pulls a trailer, which sheds some light on how a tragedy like this could occur:

shagadelic art car sand-ship

This is not the first time someone has been run over at the festival. There have been at least 2 other deaths there since 2011 – a fact that is news to me. The number of police sounds lower than previous years. From the Reno Gazette-Journal:

Humboldt General Hospital CEO Jim Parrish said earlier this week that deaths do happen at Burning Man. He said at least two other people have died there since the hospital began providing medical response in 2011.

This is the first reported Burning Man death this year.

The woman…sustained fatal injuries after she was struck and died at the scene. (Daily Mail)

No foul play is suspected, the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office said. (Raw Story)

Burners commenting online have shared details on some other incidents:

Tristan: another year i saw someone also get rolled over by a (smaller) art-car (only minor injuries). they learned it is a really bad idea to sleep under an art-car parked on the playa.  

…a few years ago a random guy was mugged by a guy dressed-up as a clown, it was pretty serious (broken arm).

Marco: the last time i was there we were in line and person got ran over by the family that was in their trailer

Leja: We had someone in our camp years ago who happened to die from his congenital heart defect just after setting his tent up. His family was contacted immediately. We were amazed by the rangers and other staff in how organized, thorough, solid and kind their response was.

Cameron: Remember the woman we found sleeping on the playa in the middle of the night last year and took back to her camp – no lights, no neon. Scary. Temple Burn.

Partick: At least we know what happened now…. All night we heard things like stab or massive gunshot……

El Chingdon: lets not forget the people who died in a burning airstream in 2003 because they left candles burning

Mr Fang: No one died in a burning airstream in 2003, but someone did die that year from injuries sustained when a small plane crashed

Laurie: We found a girl last year passed out face down in the middle of everything and had to call the rangers. She was in the dark and this could have happened then, it’s very hard to see out there in the in between spots

The Sheriff JD: may the clouds of your own heaven hold you gently and rest your soul in peace

from the UStream feed

screen cap from the UStream feed – definitely looks like Shagadelica

2014 shagadelica fatality

Photo of the victim from Facebook. Our condolences to her family and friends, and all the Burners who witnessed this tragedy. May she rest in peace.

alicia cipicchio

[Update 8/31/14 3:33pm]

Burner Frank is just back from the Playa, and took this photo of Shagadelica and Embrace. It looks like the trailer is full of speakers, which would be very heavy.

motorbike embrace

[Update 8/31/14 4:59pm] Someone who works at DMV has shared some further details about the accident:

It had nothing do to with driving while drunk. The girl jumped on the car while it was moving on the back and lost footing and the port geni ran over her that they tow. I work for DMV and all of the drivers are very responseable about keeping with brc rules/laws. In my time with DMV I have never come across a drunk operator.