Tyler O. Miller was a typical senior at Western Washington University in Bellingham, friends and family said: an outdoorsy, adventurous young man, an “athletic nerd” with an analytical mind who dreamed of writing sci-fi screenplays and novels.
He also loved to scurry up the sides of buildings like other people scale mountainsides – a pastime some call “urban climbing.”
“He climbed a lot of buildings in his time,” said his college roommate, Colin Dalvit, 21. “He looked at it as solving a problem, and he liked to go where most people didn’t go. That was his deal.”
But in the darkness of early Tuesday, after shimmying up the side of a drugstore building in downtown Bellingham, the graduate of Blanchet High School in Seattle bumped into power lines and was electrocuted before his body fell 30 feet to the pavement below.
He was just messing around, and he got into kind of a tight spot,” said Bellingham police Lt. Craige Ambrose. “And it was a maze of wires up there where he was.”
A service is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Evergreen-Washelli Funeral Home and Cemetery, 11111 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle.
“Urban climbing,” sometimes called “buildering,” is not a new pastime, and police at Western and at the University of Washington say they don’t encounter it much anymore. Still, enthusiasts on the Internet boast of a “local renaissance” in the activity.
It was more popular in the 1970s, when students at the UW went so far as to publish a guidebook rating various campus buildings for climbability. The climbing rock near Husky Stadium was built, in part, in hopes of giving people an alternative to climbing up Denny Hall.
One UW spot that remains popular is the towering exhaust stacks in Red Square, though climbers “usually get caught before they get off the ground,” said Annette Spicuzza, assistant chief of the UW police. “They can be arrested for trespassing. It’s dangerous. It’s just not safe.”
Jule Gust, 25, a recent UW graduate and secretary of the UW Climbing Club, said she knows several people who enjoy climbing buildings.
“It’s good climbing because it offers interesting structures for training,” she said. “But it also helps that it’s illegal and kind of exciting, and you have to go during the night. I guess the ones who still do it, do it because of the added thrill.”
But police said it’s a thrill that isn’t worth it.
“Hopefully this is a passing pastime, and I hope to get the word out that it’s not a good thing to do,” said Jim Shaw, chief of the Western Washington University police.