20/20: Boy Injured Copying MTV Show Stunt

April 4, 2001 — -- Twelve-year-old Thomas Hitz wasn't the first boy to watch the stunt show, Jackass, then proceed to do something very dangerous — he was the second.

In one episode, Johnny Knoxville, the host of the hit MTV stunt show, announced his intentions.

"My name is Johnny Knoxville and today I'm going to jump the L.A. river, on rollerskates," he says. In another episode, Knoxville put on a flame-retardant suit covered in raw steaks and lay on a grill as assistants squirted him with lighter fluid.

At a friend's backyard in Lake Mary, Fla., on Feb. 3, Hitz and his friends tried a similar, Jackass-inspired stunt. Hitz sprayed his hand in bug spray, lit it on fire then tried to put the fire out on his shirt.

"I was meaning to catch my hand on fire, and I did that a couple times and it went out right away," Hitz said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

Instead, his shirt burst into flames within seconds, and the boy dove into a pool as his friends watched laughing, not realizing that he was hurt. Hitz ended up with second and third-degree burns on his chest, and he needed two skin graft surgeries. Then he underwent three weeks of excruciating treatments, which entailed having the dead, burned skin removed from his chest.

Hitz is still out of school, recovering from the injuries. His skin grafts are sensitive and his parents worry that they could stretch or rip.

Though show officials note that the show is rated TV-MA for mature audiences, some of the most devoted viewers are in their early teens. And that's the problem.

Dangerous Imitation

Hitz says he did it because he was copying what he saw on Jackass but he places much of the blame for happened to him on the show.

His parents, Mark and Majorie Hitz, told Good Morning America that other parents and other kids need to know just how dangerous programs like this really are. They said MTV should pull the show off the air, and their son agreed.

"If MTV isn't going to take it off the air, they should put it on at a later time like 2 a.m.or 3 a.m. — not 10 p.m. because kids are still up at that time," said Thomas.

Another boy, Jason Lind, 13, of Torrington, Conn., had tried the stunt on Jan. 26, without the flame-retardant suit. Lind ended up in the hospital for five weeks with second- and third-degree burns.

The 20-year-old network has been stung by criticism that young teens might be copying behavior seen on some of its programming, including Jackass.

"While we don't accept responsibility, obviously we feel horrible when a young person does something to hurt themselves," MTV told Good Morning America in a prepared statement. "Like other programmers, we take great care to air our shows responsibly. Jackass airs with a TV-MA rating, with written and verbal warnings throughout the show, clearly stating that the stunts should not be imitated."

After he was contacted by the Lind family, former vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn, has been leading the charge in a political crusade against media violence, and has criticized MTV parent company Viacom.

But MTV President Van Toffler has publicly defended the show, saying it was clear that the performer wore a flame-retardant suit, the stunt was dangerous, and it should not be tried at home.