Tag:Declan Sullivan Tragedy
Posted on: April 18, 2011 11:48 am

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Notre Dame has released the report following its internal investigation regarding the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan, and president Rev. John Jenkins has said that the university as a whole is to blame. 

"The university ... is collectively responsible," Jenkins said. "Insofar as the President is responsible for the university as a whole, I am the individual who bears the most responsibility, and I accept that responsibility."

But Jenkins' acceptance may not quiet critics angered by the report's claim that "no one acted in disregard for safety" when 53 miles-per-hour winds overturned Sullivan's hydraulic lift last fall. To read not-so-deeply between the lines of Jenkins' open letter on the incident, blame must be shared "collectively" since it cannot be assigned individually:

"After a thorough and painstaking study in which numerous university personnel were interviewed and external experts consulted, we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety," school president Rev. John Jenkins wrote in an open letter posted on the school's web site. 

"Each individual involved based his decisions and actions that day on the best information available at the time and in accord with the procedures that were in place." 

Said Notre Dame executive vice president John Affleck-Graves: "What we found is that numerous decisions by many people -- made in good faith on that (day) and even over the course of several years -- played a role in the accident."

The report seemed to specifically absolve head coach Brian Kelly, concluding that he "depends on" other staff members (a directore of football operations, a trainer, etc.) to provide him with accurate weather information.

In line with the above conclusions, Jenkins has confirmed that no one at Notre Dame has been individually disciplined for the failures that led to Sullivan's death. (The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration did fine the school more than $77,000 for "ignoring industry standards" in the incident.)

"The Sullivans entrusted Declan to our care and we failed to keep him safe. We will live with this for the rest of our lives," Jenkins wrote. No will argue otherwise. But without the university issuing so much as a fine in response to an entirely preventable death of a student on their watch, Jenkins will also have to live with what is sure to be a firestorm of continuing criticism.

Posted on: March 15, 2011 4:00 pm

IOSHA statement from Declan Sullivan's family

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As reported earlier, Indiana's OSHA office announced today that Notre Dame would be fined nearly $80,000 for a series of occupational misdeeds leading up to the accidental death of volunteer film assistant Declan Sullivan last year, including a $55,000 fine for knowingly sending Sullivan to the lift with a wind advisory active. Here's what Sullivan's parents had to say about the announcement, released in a statement today:

We appreciate the thorough investigation by the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) concerning the circumstances surrounding the death of our son, Declan. This report is an important step in preventing future accidents, but its findings do not change the fact that Declan is not with us.

Our family supports the efforts by the University of Notre Dame to halt the use of hydraulic lifts to film football practices and install remote-controlled cameras. We are confident that Notre Dame will address the additional issues raised in the IOSHA report. 

It is our sincere desire that universities, high schools and other institutions that use these lifts take to heart that accidents such as these are preventable and can be avoided if the designated safety measures are taken. 

We are grateful for the respect shown us over the past several months by everyone connected with Notre Dame. The University has maintained an open line of communication throughout this period and has provided timely answers to our questions.

Finally, our family remains thankful to the many individuals who have expressed their condolences in countless ways. We would like to express gratitude for the donations to the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund and we continue to work with Notre Dame and others to find a fitting way to memorialize Declan's life.

We appreciate continued respect for our privacy as we focus on dealing with the loss of our son.

Alison and Barry Sullivan

The Sullivan family remains non-committal on whether they will sue Notre Dame over Declan's accident. The level of praise the family has for the school's response to the tragedy is certainly worth noticing, and it could very well be that they don't have it in them to pursue litigation at this point.

At the same time, six workplace safety violations contributing directly to Sullivan's death is far past unacceptable, and it's pretty surprising that nobody has lost their job over this tragedy yet. Yes, the report is only hours old, so the personnel situation could change at a moment's notice, but what kind of a message would it send to the Sullivan family and others who put their loved ones in Notre Dame's care that causing a death and racking up $77,500 in OSHA fines isn't a fireable offense?

Posted on: December 27, 2010 6:20 pm

Notre Dame back to using scissor lifts?

Posted by Adam Jacobi

In the wake of the Declan Sullivan accident that rocked both the Notre Dame campus and the college football world as a whole, Notre Dame announced that it would not be using scissor lifts -- the raised platforms frequently used by football programs to film practices from considerable heights -- until the investigation of Sullivan's death was complete. Nobody raised an eyebrow, as any investigation of an incident this serious should thoroughly examine every factor possible. It would have been worse from both a PR and legal standpoint if Notre Dame had said it wouldn't suspend use of the lifts.

The thing of it is, though, coaches use lifts for a reason: they're enormously useful, and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wasn't exactly clamoring to get Sullivan down from the lift before that day's terrible accident. So it's not exactly surprising to see that with Sun Bowl preparation in full swing, the Irish are back to using the lifts, before the Sullivan investigation is complete. Here's a picture from the Chicago Tribune 's Brian Hamilton from earlier today:

Notre Dame would later announce that while the Sullivan investigation is ongoing, it received clearance to use the lift from its office of risk management. This makes sense. If the issue with Sullivan's death was that scissor lifts are inherently unsafe in any weather condition and are liable to kill their occupants at any moment, every other football team in America would have stopped using them too. Nobody has bothered arguing that, however, because it's pretty obvious that the Sullivan accident was caused by the lift being used in substantially higher winds than regulations permit. All across the country, football programs follow regulations in the use of these lifts every day (and have done so for decades) without any incident. If anything, this development from Notre Dame only confirms what was widely suspected: that Sullivan's death was not caused by a random, unforeseeable equipment failure on a catastrophic level, but by misuse of that equipment. As long as Notre Dame uses the lift properly, in all likelihood, a similar accident will never happen again.

The bad news for Notre Dame, then, is that such a development only strengthens any possible wrongful death lawsuit, should the Sullivans go down that road. Again, Notre Dame is openly acknowledging the obvious: using scissor lifts under normal weather conditions is acceptable, but the conditions under which Sullivan was sent up that day were sufficently bad that he (obviously) should not have gone up. It's hard to draw any conclusion from that statement that doesn't directly implicate Notre Dame as liable for Sullivan's tragic death.

Posted on: November 5, 2010 6:19 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2010 6:21 pm

ND president admits fault in Sullivan accident

Posted by Adam Jacobi

In an e-mail released to Notre Dame students and faculty this afternoon, Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins took responsibility for Declan Sullivan's death on behalf of the school.

While Jenkins's e-mail stands in slight contrast to the more deposition-like statement of athletic director Jack Swarbrick from last week, it does appear that Jenkins is standing behind football coach Brian Kelly for the long term.

In particular, Jenkins praises Kelly's "character and values," calling them in line with Notre Dame's highest standards but at the same time failing to reconcile them with the Sullivan accident in any way. Indeed, it's telling that the only voice to come out of Notre Dame with any acknowledgment of responsibility in the accident isn't coming from the athletic department. If Kelly and Swarbrick follow suit in the coming days, however, then Jenkins' statement about Kelly's values will be vindicated, even at great financial cost to Notre Dame. But that's a small price to pay given the situation, isn't it?

Here's the full text of the e-mail:

Dear Notre Dame students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends,

The tragic accident that took Declan Sullivan's life just over a week ago, the Mass of Remembrance in the Basilica, and his family's faith-filled funeral for him this week have given each of us the chance to grieve, remember and pray. Declan was a bright and energetic young man who lived his life with passion. We will miss him, and we believe that he is in the loving embrace of our Lord.

Over this past week, I have had the great privilege of meeting with and trying to provide some measure of support to Declan's parents, sister, brother and other members of his family. Many Notre Dame faculty, staff and students also have reached out to offer their assistance. Yet the Sullivan family, through their incredible grace and courage, has given us support and an example of how to respond. They ministered to us as we tried to minister to them.

There is no greater sadness for a university community than the death of one of its students under any circumstances. Yet this loss is more devastating, for Declan died in a tragic accident while in our care. For that, I am profoundly sorry. We are conducting an investigation and we must be careful not to pre-judge its results, but I will say this: Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe. We at Notre Dame - and ultimately I, as President - are responsible. Words cannot express our sorrow to the Sullivan family and to all involved.

I am committed to determining why this accident happened and to ensuring the safety of our students. We have been conducting an internal investigation to examine this accident from every possible perspective and to draw conclusions and formulate recommendations for the future. In order to ensure that our inquiry has been thorough, unbiased and accurate, I have asked Dr. Peter Likins, former President of the University of Arizona, to provide an external review of our inquiry, and he has graciously accepted.

In selecting someone to review our investigation, I sought an individual experienced in higher education, with an impeccable reputation for integrity, intellect and independence. In Dr. Likins, we are fortunate to have just such a man. He brings numerous credentials to this assignment: as a world-renowned engineer; as a university administrator who served as provost at Columbia and president at Lehigh and Arizona; as a highly regarded member of numerous NCAA committees; and as a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Investigations and external reviews such as this take time, but I assure you that, when complete, we will issue a public report on the outcome, including information on the events of the afternoon of Oct. 27, any institutional ramifications, and recommendations for safety policies in the future.

Finally, in light of what I believe to be unfounded and unfair commentary and speculation, I want to say something about Coach Brian Kelly. Coach Kelly was hired not only because of his football expertise, but because we believed his character and values accord with the highest standards of Notre Dame. All we have seen since he came to Notre Dame, and everything we have learned in our investigation to date, have confirmed that belief. For those reasons I am confident that Coach Kelly has a bright future leading our football program.

Thank you for your concern, and your prayers. At the darkest moments, the love, and care, and faith of the Notre Dame family shines most brightly.

Posted on: October 28, 2010 6:07 pm

Video assistant speaks about ND tragedy, safety

Posted by Adam Jacobi

This is an interview with a current video assistant at a major college football program, whose role with the team is similar to that of Declan Sullivan, the Notre Dame student who died in the tragic tower collapse yesterday. To allow the assistant to speak candidly about the story and protect both his job and his program, we will not name the assistant or the team.


What's your official job title, and how long have you been doing film for this program?

Student Video Assistant, in my 3rd season.

And what, primarily, does that job entail?

We are responsible for taping all practices and games. For the normal practice, we have four cameras: two sideline, two end zone. Two cameras for the normal game. Typically, a student arrives an hour before practice, receives a schedule of what is to be taped, and has to be in place before practice begins. At that point, the video coordinator and students are responsible for taping whatever the coaches request be taped -- usually a given camera will be rolling for probably 70% of practice. After practice, the students and video coordinator are responsible for preparing the video so that it is immediately available for coaches. A good video staff will have most of practice available to view before practice is even finished, and all of it ready to view within 15 minutes of practice finishing.

How often do you use telescoping hydraulic tower lifts?

Most programs, when practicing outdoors, use hydraulic scissor lifts or a lift that is very similar to a cherry picker. We use hydraulic lifts every practice.

Do the lifts have any warnings about high wind?

Most lifts have a number of warnings, including one concerning wind. Generally, it is not advised to use them in winds over about 25 mph.

Have you ever gone up in one when it was windier than 25 mph?

Multiple times, although not a ton.

What's it like up in one of those when it's windy?

The normal lift will sway slightly in a light wind, probably 10-15 mph. If it gets really windy, it's a noticeable sway, although it has to get quite windy to have it sway more than an inch or so.

Have you ever felt unsafe in one of those?

After getting past the initial time up in the lift when just starting out, probably 3 or 4 times, either due to winds that were probably over 30 mph, or due to lightning in the area. Winds can be scary; lightning can be scarier.

The thing is, any student that has gone up in one of those lifts always has that moment where you wonder what you'd do if the lift tipped over -- kind of a doomsday scenario thing. It runs through your head, even when it's nice and sunny out.

Did your team practice inside or outside when the high winds came through?

This week? Inside.

Is there ever a time when the team is practicing outside and the video assistants don't go up in one of the lifts out of safety concerns?

Generally, if the team is practicing outside, there is an expectation that it will be filmed outside. There has been only one time that the student crew was summoned to the ground, and that came from the video director.

Why was that?

A thunderstorm was moving into the area, and being 50+ feet in the air in a metal lift, for lack of a better term, scares the crap out of you when lightning is striking around you.

How did the coaches react to you coming down? Did the practice stay outside or move in?

They were not pleased at all, and "requested" that we get back in the air as soon as we could. There's a bit of an intimidation factor there.

Is that consistent with how you're treated by coaches (high expectations, etc.)?

It's one of those jobs where they don't care til something goes wrong.

But you enjoy it, right?

Love it. Don't want to do anything else.

Before Declan Sullivan's tragedy happened, if the coaches had asked you to get into the lift with winds gusting at 50-60 mph, would you have?


Similarly, do you think the coaches ever would have asked you to do so?

I would hope not, but you never know. Coaches have tunnel vision. But ultimately, common sense out of administrators is critical.

Last question, I don't want to make you speak for coaches and programs you've never been a part of, so I won't ask about things changing nationwide as a result of the Sullivan tragedy, but at your program, do you see any shifts in policy concerning lift usage coming?

Possibly, although common sense should still take precedence. I don't doubt Declan felt he had to be there. The video coordinator, head coach, and athletic director all have some serious issues on their hands.

Posted on: October 28, 2010 2:58 am

ND tower victim: "Holy **** this is terrifying"

Posted by Adam Jacobi

By now, we've all heard about the tragic death of Declan Sullivan, the Notre Dame student assistant who was killed when his hydraulic film tower was blown over and toppled onto an adjoining street. As with any similar incident, an investigation is underway, if for no other reason than for a little more sense of closure for Sullivan's family and the team.

The thing of it is, though, Sullivan was actually acutely aware of the danger he faced when he went up into that raised platform on Wednesday. We know that because of two Facebook statuses he posted minutes before the fatal accident. Here's what Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune reports was on Sullivan's Facebook page:

Sullivan said: “Holy (expletive) holy (expletive) this is terrifying.”
And at 3:32 p.m., he posted: Gusts of wind up to 60mph well today will be fun at work... I guess I've lived long enough :-/

Knowing how this story ends and reading them after the fact is, for lack of a better term, sickening. It's the manifestation of every fear that keeps a parent awake at night, that their child's sense of trust will override his or her sense of danger, and that it ends badly. You read these posts and just think, "NO, NO, NO, STAY ON THE GROUND." But Sullivan didn't, and it's too late now.

Yet at the same time, Sullivan did choose to go up in the tower on Wednesday, and there are no reports as of yet that Kelly forced Sullivan to stay up there against any voiced objections. In other words, absent any as-yet-undisclosed details, there's really nobody to blame here, no bad guys who facilitated Sullivan's death. When he posted those now-haunting Facebook updates, he probably wasn't doing so as a cry for help so much as setting the stage for a story to tell later. That's not to put the blame on Sullivan's death on him, of course; even he underestimated the danger he faced going up there Wednesday, and that's why we're all where we are now.

Ugh. As if the story needed any worse details. Again, our thoughts are with the Notre Dame team, its community, and Sullivan's family.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com