THE END

BRIAN SCHUBERT 1940-2006

A pioneer in BASE jumping, he was a big, tough cop known for compassion and Christmas chili

JOHN INTINI November 13 2006
THE END

BRIAN SCHUBERT 1940-2006

A pioneer in BASE jumping, he was a big, tough cop known for compassion and Christmas chili

JOHN INTINI November 13 2006

BRIAN SCHUBERT 1940-2006

THE END

A pioneer in BASE jumping, he was a big, tough cop known for compassion and Christmas chili

Brian Schubert, the eldest of four children, was born in Chicago on June 23,1940. His father Belden was a Greyhound bus driver—he later became an accountant—and his mother Rosalie was a beautician. After the birth of their second son, Dennis, but before the arrival of identical twin daughters Karen and Karel, the family moved to Los Angeles, before finally settling in Claremont, Calif.

Brian was a bright kid who was never really challenged in school. A good athlete, he was popular (especially with girls), and had a pair of fancy feet—in 1956, he and a high school friend won a televised dance competition. But his life was nearly cut short when, at 16, he was stabbed in the chest by a friend during a card game. “He stabbed him with a knife from his parents’ kitchen,” says Karel. “My brother went home and just lay on his bed. I don’t think he was going to tell on the boy. Luckily, my mom came home. They rushed him into surgery. The knife went in a quarter-inch from his heart. A quarter-inch closer and he’d have died. But my brother forgave him later in life. He had him at his house on Christmas Eve and helped him when he had cancer.”

Before graduating from high school,

Brian joined the army and was stationed for three years in the late ’50s with the 82nd Airborne in Germany (while there, he earned his high school equivalency). “He got his love of skiing in Berchtesgaden,” says Karel.

That’s also where he learned to box and, as a paratrooper, discovered a passion for skydiving.

After returning home, he married Christine Marxmiller in 1961. They had their first child, Tina, that year (Cindy, their second daughter, was born about two years later). The young couple divorced in 1965, and though Brian moved to Barstow, Calif., he remained a very important part of his daughters’ lives—as well as his ex-wife’s.

In Barstow, Brian met Mike Pelkey. Both 26, the two men shared a great love for skydiving. When Mike suggested they leap from Yosemite’s El Capitan cliff because “nobody had done it,” Brian didn’t flinch. “He was the poster boy of fearlessness,” says Mike. After an eight-hour climb, the 3,000-plus-foot plunge on July 24, 1966, was determined, years later, to be the first ever BASE jump. (BASE is an acronym for building, antenna, span, earth.) Not that Brian, who crash-landed on the rocks below, was in any shape at the time to enjoy his status as an extreme sports pioneer. “He said he heard every bone in both feet break,” says Mike. “And he got his boots off as soon as he could because he knew his feet were going to swell.”

After the accident, Brian walked with a limp and was told he’d never walk properly again. But that didn’t stop him from jumping. “He made several more skydives—even after his licence was suspended,” says Tina. “On one, he landed on his foot just right and knocked the calcification loose and never walked with a limp again.”

Brian, who worked with Mike at a tool-and-die shop, was also his best man. Years later, Mike named his first son after Brianeven though the two had lost touch. Brian had moved to Pomona, Calif., to join the police force (which required he stop skydiving), and the Pelkeys had moved to Michigan. In 1971, after a few years on the beat, Brian married JoAnn Jones, who had an 18-month old daughter, Michelle, from a previous marriage.

During his 23 years as a police officer, Brian also studied part-time. He earned a B.A. in behavioural science from California State Polytechnic University, and a master’s in public administration from the University of La Verne. He was a tough cop with a softer side—he’d pick homeless men off the street and take them out for lunch before dropping them off at a shelter. He rose to lieutenant before retiring in 1989 and starting a private investigator business.

Soon after he and JoAnn divorced in 1994, Brian bought a Harley-Davidson. He loved hitting the road with a group of cops and fireman (including his son-in-law, Tina’s husband Kurt Lindebaum). Brian also collected highpriced model trains, including a $10,000 engine. “I recently said, ‘Dad if you’re ever hurting for money, you can sell a train,’ ’’says Tina. “He said, ‘no way, this is my grandkids’ inheritance.’ ” Family—which included eight grandchildren and two greatgrandchildren—came first. And Christmas Eve at the Schuberts was a tradition. “He was famous,” says Tina, “for a military-potsized chili.”

Although muscular, the avid hunter and fisherman was, at times, 100 lb. overweight. But he’d trimmed 80 lb. in the last year, recently tipping the scales at 210. Back surgery last year, however, slowed him down, and Brian was scheduled for a bilateral knee replacement next month—he had no cartilage left in his knees. That’s why he decided to mark the 40th anniversary of his first BASE jump with an 876-foot drop into water. On Oct. 21 in Fayetteville, W.Va., with 145,000 watching (including Tina and Mike, who had reconnected with his old friend after four decades), Brian jumped from a bridge over the New River Gorge. But his parachute didn’t fully open in time. When he hit the water, he died instantly, BY JOHN INTINI