07/31/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
THERE IS A SAYING IN SPAIN THAT nothing ever starts on time—except the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona. On July 13 the encierro—immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises—began promptly at 8 a.m. with a traditional rocket blast. Suddenly, six bulls charged into the city's narrow streets. Waiting for them was a crowd of more than 1,500, including U.S. tourist Matthew Tassio, 22, of Glen Ellyn, Ill. As he raced ahead of the bulls, Tassio fell. When he tried to get up, a 1,300-lb. bull lunged at him, one horn ripping into his abdomen and severing a major heart artery. Within minutes, Tassio had bled to death.
A May graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Tassio became the first foreigner to die during the festival of San Fermin's running of the bulls, but the 13th person to be fatally-gored since 1924. He had arrived in Pamplona early that morning with college friend Jim Quinn, 22. They were ending a six-week European tour before Tassio was to begin an engineering job at Motorola, Inc., not far from his family's home in the Chicago suburbs. The two stayed up most of the night partying before getting in place for the run. Quinn was nervous; Tassio was not. "Matthew told me I was worrying too much," Quinn says. "It was his style to assume the positive."
On July 14, Tassio's parents, Jim, a financial analyst at Quaker Oats, and Cindy, a special-education administrator, went to Pamplona to bring their son home. They visited the site of the tragedy and walked the length of the encierro. "They finished the run for Matthew," says his aunt Cindy Ward. Though friends say Tassio was no reckless adventurer, they can understand his desire to embrace every experience on his first trip abroad. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime deal," says Erik Sachs, a college friend. "If I had been there, I'd have done it. Now it's like we're not indestructible. We're young, but not indestructible."