Fighting Irish to honor student killed on field

October 28, 2010 8:00:53 PM PDT
Notre Dame's athletic director said several agencies are investigating the death of a student videographer who fell from a lift Wednesday on a university football field.

"We don't have those answers today," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Thursday at a press conference. Swarbrick said the investigation into the death of Declan Sullivan, 20, began immediately. "It involved the Notre Dame Police Department, an accident reconstruction team and Indiana OSHA."

The Notre Dame junior from northwest suburban Long Grove died when the portable tower he was standing on toppled onto the football field Wednesday. Sullivan was videotaping a football practice for the Fighting Irish from one of the school's 30-foot portable scissor lifts at Labar Field in the practice complex.

"I know there's a lot of speculation," said Swarbrick. "We will let the investigation run its course."

High winds may have played a part in the tower's collapse; South Bend, Ind., was under a wind advisory that day. Swarbrick said the investigation will look at the weather conditions, as well as all other aspects of the decisions made that day to allow Sullivan on the lift.

"What is the nature of the training? What are the instructions? Those are things we will look at. We have to look at the understanding on this day," Swarbrick said. He said he had not seen inspection records for the scissor lift.

Indiana OSHA said Sullivan's death is considered a workplace fatality. "Falls are the number two cause of workplace fatalities in the state. In Indiana in 2009, there were 20 people who were involved, who died due to falls," said an Indiana OSHA spokesperson.

The manufacturer of the lift has not been released, but similar products indicate it should not be used if winds are stronger than 25 mph.

On Saturday, the football game will play against Tulsa as scheduled, but Swarbrick said a pep rally was canceled at the school and the football team will wear a decal for Sullivan on their helmets.

Notre Dame Football Coach Brian Kelly released the following statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Declan's family and friends. Declan was a diligent student worker in our video department and had a tremendous personality and great sense of humor. He brightened the days for all that had the privilege to work with him, and the Notre Dame football family will dearly miss him."

Swarbrick said Coach Kelly is focusing his attention on his football team -- athletes and support staff -- during this time. "All we can do is focus on the athletes," said Swarbrick. "We care about winning and losing here, but not right now. What matters is taking care of these young men and honoring Declan's memory."

Sullivan's Facebook update warned of wind

Sullivan had just updated his Facebook page before falling to his death, according to the South Bend Tribune. The Notre Dame junior wrote, "Gusts of wind up to 60 miles per hour, well today will be fun at work... I guess I've lived long enough."

Less than one hour later, the portable tower fell. Winds in the area were gusting more than 50 miles per hour at the time, which was just before 5 p.m. Wednesday. It is not clear who made the scissor lift, but one manufacturer of similar devices warns that they should not be used in winds in excess of 25 miles per hour.

Sullivan was rushed to a local hospital where he later died. His family is leaving up his facebook page for friends to grieve.

"It's pretty horrific when you think about it," an unidentified Notre Dame student said. "Hard to describe my feelings right now."

Sullivan grew up in Long Grove and was a 2008 graduate of Carmel Catholic High School in suburban Mundelein. Students at Carmel said Thursday they were saddened by the news.

"It seems pretty sudden for everyone to have to deal with a death like that. You never expect this kind of thing, not even a sickness or anything. It's just kind of a sudden, like catastrophe, almost. So, it's really sad it could happen to anybody, a Carmel student like that," said Carmel student Charles Lacke.

Sullivan's uncle said the family will miss the student's joy and energy.

"We're grieving on a very personal level, and we're going to miss his energy at the gatherings we have," said uncle Michael Miley. "Dec is very smart, very funny, very friendly young man, and that personality always seemed to come out, no matter the situation. And that's going to be missed as we're together as a remaining family. The world is just not the same now without him."

Sullivan is survived by a sister, who is a freshman at Notre Dame, and a younger brother.

Family members say Sullivan was interested in pursuing a media career and died doing something he loved.

A Mass was held Thursday evening in Sullivan's honor in South Bend.


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