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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
The last person killed at Pamplona
By Andrew Walker
BBC News

Pamplona 2005
The bull runs continue 10 years on
His name was, I am told, Matthew Tassio. He was 22 years old and came from Chicago. We never met, but 10 years ago I watched him die.

For most of the year, Pamplona is just like any other Spanish provincial town. There's a regular market, the seasons are delineated by religious and agricultural festivals, and from time to time, it slips into bucolic slumber.

But in July Pamplona is transformed into the focus of a cosmopolitan bacchanal. The annual nine-day festival of San Fermin, which concludes today, draws the curious, the naive and the foolhardy from around the world to run through the streets pursued by six fighting bulls.

Spurred on by the writings of Ernest Hemingway, who never actually ran with the bulls himself, but whose cult 1926 novel, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, it continues to hold a baleful fascination for many readers.

Thousands of people descend on the city every year to sample the most extreme sport of the lot: bull running.

the San Fermin festival began in the 16th Century
it is named after the patron saint of the diocese of Pamplona
the bulls run through the streets in the morning and fight in the bullring in the afternoon
Pamplona's population of 200,000 swells with up to two million visitors over the weekend
its all-night parties are as famous as its bulls
Having spent a few days in the cooler air of the Spanish Pyrenees, I arrived in town on the afternoon of 12 July 1995, and made my way to the start of the bull run, a corral near the church of San Domingo.

Here, at eight the next morning, in a tradition not changed for centuries, a rocket would signal that the bulls had been released, heralding an 850-metre charge through Pamplona's winding streets to the bullring.

As the huge fighting bulls charged up the cobbled incline, San Domingo would become a scene of utter chaos and mayhem and would witness, for one young man, the final act of his life.

Fiesta is the one time of the year when no-one dares to look down on the local drunks and tramps
Pamplonan resident
An hour before the off, thousands of young men - inexplicably, women runners are frowned upon - began to gather near the start.

Many were drunk, and the scene resembled nothing less than a routed army. The reek of stale wine made me nauseous. I decided to sit this one out.

Fear in their eyes

A traditional song cut the air, and a whole forest of rolled up newspapers - used to bash the bulls on the nose by the most macho runners - were waved in unison.

Then, on the stroke of eight, and with the sound of an exploding rocket filling the air, they were off. From my perch on the corner by the church, I had a first-class view of the action. Swathes of runners launched themselves up the hill to my left.

22-year-old backpacker from Illinois
travelling across Europe with friends before beginning his career as an electrical engineer
arrived overnight by bus from Barcelona because hotels were full
fatally, he received no tips from locals about bull run tactics
so he did not know the cardinal rule - when you go down, stay down

Then, almost instantaneously, the crowd parted to reveal a huge black bull. Men were slipping on the dewy cobblestones, the look of fear in their eyes mirroring the desperation and anger of the pursuing beasts.

Within seconds, the horde was upon us, bodies crashed into the heavy wooden safety barrier in front of me with a dull thud.

But one sound, a sound that will remain with me until my dying day, was totally different.

Like a shotgun blast mixed with falling timber, I heard and felt something, or maybe someone, smash into the paling in front of me.

A flash of black, high in the air, and it was all over. I looked down and saw a body, prone on the ground some 10ft away, the eyes already glazing, a patch of blood spreading about it.

Like Hemingway, Matthew Peter Tassio was from Illinois. As he was running up San Domingo, he was felled by one of the oxen which run alongside the bulls. As he struggled to his feet, witnesses said, he was charged.

Pamplona bulls
There have been 13 deaths since 1924
The fighting bull which gored him weighed half a tonne. It hit him in the abdomen, severed a main artery, sliced through his kidney and punctured his liver, before tossing him seven metres (23 feet) in the air.

I was not so much sickened by the death or the blood, I must confess. But the sight of people capturing the scene on their cameras, to be shown to friends and family at a later date, turned my stomach.

The last thing I saw before I left was Matthew Tassio's body being carried away on a stretcher. His face was uncovered. There was no rictus of fear or pain, merely an expression of mystification, like a child struggling to solve a mental arithmetic puzzle.

In the car, 40 minutes later, heading out of town, the local radio told us what I already knew, that Matthew Tassio had died in hospital of massive blood loss.

From time to time, my mind strays back to that cool, sunny morning in 1995, and I think of Matthew, his parents and friends.

I haven't been back to Pamplona.


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