Declan Sullivan's Death Raises Numerous Questions at Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Yellow police tape encircled the entrance to the LaBar Practice Complex at the University of Notre Dame on Wednesday night. Outside Dillon Hall, a freshman football player from Hawaii sat on a porch softly playing a ukulele as two teammates looked on. Farther down the South Quad, inside Fisher Hall, mass was being held as students grappled with the news that one of their own had senselessly died.
The death of Declan Sullivan, a junior from Long Grove, Ill., will haunt Notre Dame and its football program for some time. Sullivan, 20, died when the scissors lift upon which he was videotaping practice toppled after being buffeted by wind gusts that reached upward of 50 mph.
When fully extended, the top platform of the hydraulic lift extends above the goalposts. Why Sullivan was on that perch under those conditions, one day after the Irish had practiced indoors under similarly gusty conditions, is just one question the Irish athletic department will be confronted with in the coming days and weeks.
There were clear skies, a brilliant cerulean color bathed in sparkling sunshine, as Notre Dame took to its three practice fields Wednesday afternoon.
Students had only returned from a week-long fall break on Monday and many were still buzzing about the tornado sirens that had caused the campus to shut down for 90 minutes on Tuesday morning.
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."
At 4:50 p.m. the lift, conspicuous by its x-patterned accordion-like supports, fell, gashing a chain-link fence that abuts the northern end of the practice facility. It landed in the middle of Courtney Lane, a service road that is flanked by the football fields to one side and outdoor tennis courts to the other. Exactly how the staff or players reacted is not known at the moment. Whether practice was abruptly cut short, whether the players were immediately aware of the gravity of the accident -- dark green mesh on the fence as well as hedges enshroud the field from outside observers.
Some of the many questions that arise from this situation will be addressed at a press conference Notre Dame has called Thursday afternoon.
What was anyone, much less a student, doing that high above ground on a hydraulic lift on such a day? Did the team continue to practice after the accident occurred? Those are the two most obvious.
The Associated Press reports that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) has sent an investigator to the scene. OSHA said it could be a while before it is ready to report any findings. One question it will address, the AP reported, is who authorized Sullivan to be in the lift in such windy conditions.
The school has offered no comment beyond expressions of sympathy for Sullivan's family.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Declan's family and friends," coach Brian Kelly said in a release. "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."
A mass for Sullivan will be held Thursday night at the Notre Dame Basilica at 10 o'clock. The entrance of the church is situated not 100 yards from the front door of Lewis Hall, a girls dorm that houses Sullivan's younger sister Gwyneth, a freshman.
Meanwhile, it is also haunting to consider that Sullivan, who was filming the defense on the middle of the facility's three practice fields, was facing southbound. From that spot, he could've gazed out and seen Melissa Cook Stadium, the Notre Dame softball facility. That structure, which opened in April of 2008, Sullivan's freshman year, is named after a former Irish softball player who graduated in 1994. Melissa Cook died in March, 2002, in Chicago, on the eve of her birthday, when a massive piece of scaffolding fell from the Hancock Tower and landed atop the car she was driving.
The cause of the accident? High winds.