Declan Sullivan Death Addressed at Notre Dame Press Conference
Those were the words of Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who was no more than 20 or 30 yards away from the scissor lift on which student Declan Sullivan was perched when it toppled over on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Swarbrick addressed media for the first time since Sullivan, a 20 year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., died from injuries he incurred in the fall.
"The investigation began immediately," said Swarbrick, fielding questions as to who was responsible for Sullivan being atop the tower on a day when winds gusted upward of 50 mph. "Indiana OSHA is on the scene. There is a lot to learn here, and we will learn it all ... we don't have those answers today."
Clad in a brown suit, Swarbrick recalled entering the complex "at about 4:47 or 4:48" on Wednesday. He noted watching a couple of passes being caught before the high winds came from the southwest. At the sudden gust, Swarbrick said, he noticed Gatorade bottles blowing about and the netting behind the goalposts "waving sporadically. And I heard a crash."
The scissor lift upon which Sullivan stood had fallen to the north, across the top of the chain-link fence that abuts the field, and onto the road behind the facility. "I didn't see anything at first," said Swarbrick, "because there was nothing to see."
Notre Dame deploys two scissor lifts (and two permanent metal towers) during practice. Each lift is located behind the northern end zone of the offensive and defensive fields, respectively. Sullivan happened to be videotaping the defense, which occupies the middle of the three fields at most practices.
"The response was extraordinary in every way," said Swarbrick, noting that first responders from the school's campus security were on the scene within three minutes.
As players and staff, who had initially rushed through the gash in the fence to check on Sullivan, were herded back into the facility, Swarbrick and coach Brian Kelly remained with the mortally injured student.
"He appeared to be responsive to some commands," said Swarbrick, but as Sullivan was en route to Memorial Hospital in South Bend in an ambulance, the athletic director was informed that he had stopped breathing on his own. Sullivan was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.
The questions that began to filter in Thursday in the wake of Sullivan's death, Swarbrick said, will not be answered immediately. As to policies regarding safety or oversight, he said, "Every (athletic) program makes it own decisions."
Earlier Wednesday afternoon Sullivan, who worked as a member of the athletic department's video crew, tweeted, "Gusts of wind up to 60mph well today will be fun at work...I guess I've lived long enough :-/"
But after an hour or so of practice, which began at 3 p.m., wind gusts were up to 51 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Shortly after 4 p.m., Sullivan sent out another tweet: "Holy (bleep) holy (bleep) holy (bleep) this is terrifying."
Notre Dame, which is scheduled to host Tulsa on Saturday, canceled Kelly's Thursday post-practice press conference and radio show. The Friday kickoff luncheon and pep rally, staples of home football weekends, have also been canceled. As for postponing the game, Swarbrick said, "Certainly we talked about it. Had a discussion on whether it was appropriate to play. We concluded it was, if only to honor Declan."
The Irish will wear decals in honor of Sullivan, who had been a football videographer "for at least two years," and observe a moment of silence before Saturday's 2:42 p.m. kickoff.
Other details worth noting:
• Sullivan, the oldest of three children, is survived by his parents Barry and Alison, sister Gwyneth, a freshman at Notre Dame, and 15-year-old brother Mack. A campus official phoned Barry Sullivan to inform him of Declan's death. Sullivan requested that he phone his daughter on campus personally to share the news, which he did.
• Players and staff were informed of Sullivan's death at around 7 p.m. during a meeting inside the Guglielmino Athletic Complex. Swarbrick said that he then spent another hour with Kelly. "It was a very emotional evening for him," said Swarbrick. "I tried to provide support."
• Notre Dame will practice indoors Thursday and Friday at the Loftus Athletic Complex.
• Asked how long after the accident the second hydraulic scissor lift was lowered, Swarbrick replied, "Right away."
• Swarbrick noted that he had attended outdoor practices in which the scissor lifts were not up. Pressed for details as to who is responsible for deciding whether they are elevated or not, he said, "People are being interviewed and asked those questions." Pressed further about possible changes in protocol, Swarbrick said, "I don't want to speculate as to what conclusions we'll draw. Certainly we'll learn from this."
• As to why Kelly was not made available to the media, Swarbrick said, "We're going to leave the football team and coaching staff to deal with this privately until Saturday."
• Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., spoke briefly before Swarbrick and did not take questions "Declan Sullivan was a bright, energetic and dedicated young man," said Jenkins, "and we will miss him greatly."