Fan falls alarmingly common
Shannon Stone’s life ended over a ball that sells for $12.99 on Major League Baseball’s official website.
Stone reached over a railing at the Ballpark at Arlington after Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton tossed a ball in his direction Thursday night. Stone, 39, fell about 20 feet and died less than an hour later in an area hospital after going into cardiac arrest in the ambulance en route. Stone died from multiple blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen, Tarrant County Medical Examiner spokeswoman Linda Anderson told FOXSports.com.
“We’re still in shock,” said Bobby Rountree, city manager in Brownwood, Texas, where Stone served as a firefighter for 17 years. “He was up there with his 6-year-old son and wanted to have a great night. What else could be more fun? For this to happen the way it did is tragic.”
Unfortunately these types of incidents aren’t rare. A fan toppled out of the Ballpark at Arlington’s second deck onto the field-level seats and was injured last July. The first day the ballpark opened in 1994, a 26-year-old female fan fell 35 feet and suffered several broken bones, including neck fractures.
This was the first accident in Arlington in which a fan fell while reaching out for a souvenir tossed by a player, a practice that could be examined going forward.
“Our players are encouraged to be fan-friendly and we will carefully review this incident with our clubs to continue to ensure a safe environment for our fans,” MLB said in a statement Friday.
Even without that element, one expert says the design of the ballpark should be re-examined.
“There’s a significant probability of this type of fall occurring at least once in the life of a stadium,” said Jake Pauls, a consultant based in Silver Spring, Md., who has pushed for stricter safety codes in stadiums, arenas and theaters. “For this to be the third incident since the stadium first opened says a lot.”
Fans have been injured in escalators, on stairs and have been victim of assaults in recent years, but falls appear to be one of the easiest of the dangers to mitigate. Pauls, however, cited fans lobbying against high barriers that obstruct views as a major reason stadium officials have kept the guards dangerously low.
“If you lean up against one of these rails, you’re risking your life,” Pauls said. “Most people don’t know the risk they are assuming. You can get jostled for some other reason, lose your balance and topple over.”
At a Friday press conference, Rangers president Nolan Ryan said the team will study the area where Stone was sitting, although the seats will remain open for tonight’s game against the Oakland A’s. There will be a moment of silence before the contest, and both teams will wear black armbands in memory of Stone, The Dallas Morning News reported.
In the wake of previous falls, the Rangers installed warning signs in many areas around the stadium, and railings in the upper deck were raised to 46 inches in the aftermath of the 1994 accident. Pauls said while building codes usually require railings to be no more than 26 inches high, he’d like to see that height put at 42 inches or higher. Pauls added it appears the railing was well short of that height, although it likely still met safety code guidelines.
After a Los Angeles Lakers game in November last year, 2-year-old Lucas Tang fell out of a luxury box at Staples Center and plunged 30 to 50 feet to his death. His parents filed a lawsuit against building owner Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and L.A. Arena Co. in May claiming “the design of the luxury box constituted an unreasonable and dangerous condition.” Tang’s suit is ongoing.
"The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) has determined that the 26-inch guardrails, at the location within the Staples Center, are in compliance with the code effective at the time of its construction and installation, and they meet current code,” Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety said in a statement.
Other fans injured or killed by falls in recent years include:
• Sept. 17, 2003: A fan fell to his death from the right-field wall while attending a Giants game at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco
• June, 26, 2009: A man fell out of the upper deck during a St. Louis Cardinals-Minnesota Twins game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
• Nov. 20, 2010: An intoxicated man fell out of the upper deck and injured the fan he fell on during an LSU home football game at Tiger Stadium; both were hospitalized.
• Nov. 28, 2010: A man died after he fell at least 20 feet during a Philadelphia Eagles-Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
• May 24, 2011: A 27-year-old man died three days after falling about 20 feet and striking his head on concrete during the seventh inning of a Colorado Rockies game at Coors Field in Denver.
“This is not a question of whether it will happen again, but when it will happen again,” said Scott Wellman, the attorney representing the Tang family in their lawsuit.
The Rangers planned to hold a moment of silence before Friday night’s game against Oakland, and lowered all flags at the stadium to half-staff.