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Circus performer falls to her death


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Dessi Espana is shown during a performance last March in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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A circus performer dies in a fall.
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Minnesota

(CNN) -- A circus performer working without a net died Saturday after falling about 35 feet during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show, while hundreds of children and parents watched in horror.

A statement from Ringling Brothers said Dessi Espana, 32, was pronounced dead seven hours after the fall at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"Despite all the efforts of the staff at Regions Hospital, her injuries were too great," the statement said.

Witness Eric Neel told KSTP-TV she was twirling from a chiffon scarf when something went wrong.

"She's about 35 feet in the air and all of a sudden it gave way from the ceiling and she fell down on her head on the concrete," he said.

A spokesman for the Ramsey County Medical Examiner said Sunday morning an autopsy had not yet been performed.

A circus spokeswoman said Espana had been performing the act -- in which she climbs two long strips of cloth hung from the ceiling and performs aerial acrobatics -- for the circus since January, although she had performed it elsewhere before then.

An investigation into the cause of Saturday's mishap was under way, said Kim Brock.

"At this point, there's no evidence to indicate that it was anything but a bad accident," said Joe Neuberger, commander of the St. Paul Police Department.

Brock said it was the first death of a circus performer during a show for the 134-year-old company in at least 10 years.

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized.

Espana's husband, Ivan, and other family members performed together in the Ringling Brothers show, according to her biography on the company's Web site. Dessi and Ivan's two children -- ages 5 and 7 -- also traveled with them and were sometimes included in their acts. Espana's Bulgarian parents were also circus performers.

The show did not stop after Espana's fall around 3:15 p.m., Neel said.

"They just kind of tried to keep everybody distracted, and they ended up putting her on a backboard and took her out and then went on with the show," he said.

According to her biography, Espana once held a world record for twirling 75 hula hoops while appearing on the TV show Live With Regis & Kathie Lee. She held the record until 1999.


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