Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Tragedy at Notre Dame football practice demands answers

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After issuing written statements expressing shock and sorrow Wednesday night, Notre Dame officials are expected to address details surrounding the tragic death of student Declan Sullivan on Thursday. Though it's not a sure thing.

Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from north suburban Long Grove who graduated from Carmel High School in Mundelein, died Wednesday when the aerial work station he was using to videotape Notre Dame's football practice toppled in high winds onto a street surrounding the LaBar Practice Complex across from the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on the Notre Dame campus.

There will be a lot of questions -- many of them regarding Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's culpability in the accident. But only one question really matters: Why was Declan Sullivan up there?

This didn't appear to be a close call. The windstorm that hit the upper Midwest on Tuesday and  Wednesday was of historic proportions. It led the 10 o'clock news in Chicago on Monday night. It forced Notre Dame to practice indoors on Tuesday. Why not also on Wednesday? The threat of rain was gone but the wind was just as fierce -- gusts of 50 mph or more at the time of the accident according to the National Weather Service.

Maybe it wasn't as severe at 3:15 p.m., when Notre Dame begins practice. But it didn't have to be. According to standard operating procedures of manufacturers of ''hydraulic scissor lifts,'' the aerial work platforms are not supposed to be operated when winds are in excess of 20-28 mph. Even if those are conservative regulations, all you had to do was stand outside to know it was not a day to be standing on a portable platform 30-40 feet in the air.

Sullivan's own haunting and heart-wrenching twitter messages provide an all-too chilling confirmation of that. ''Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work ... I guess I've lived long enough.'' And less than an hour prior to the accident: ''Holy (bleep). Holy (bleep) this is terrifying.''

This isn't the first time an accident like this has happened. At Colorado State in 2000, a cameraman videotaping football practice suffered internal injuries and broken ribs that left him in critical condition after falling 30 feet from an aerial work platform that was toppled in a windstorm with gusts of 50 mph.

The cameraman recovered. He fell onto the field. The platform Sullivan was taping practice from fell over a fence and onto a street.

Thursday will be a day of mourning on the Notre Dame campus. A special Mass of Rememberance will be held for Declan Sullivan in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus. The football team will have an awkward day of trying to resume its ''normal'' practice regimen prior to facing Tulsa on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. And eventually, Notre Dame will have to step up and provide answers to a tragedy that sure looks like it could have been avoided.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 28, 2010 3:51 AM.

One hurt as video tower toppled by winds at Notre Dame practice was the previous entry in this blog.

Life goes on at Notre Dame in wake of Declan Sullivan tragedy is the next entry in this blog.

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