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Outdated information played role in Notre Dame tragedy
Student killed when hydraulic lift toppled
SOUTH BEND, IND. | Notre Dame said Monday that football staff responsible for advising whether it was safe to practice outside used out-of-date weather information the day a student videographer fell to his death when the hydraulic lift he was on toppled over in high winds.
Declan Sullivan, a junior film student from Long Grove, Ill., was killed Oct. 27 when the 40-foot lift fell over in a 53 mph wind gust.
The investigation found that staff members likely depended on readings from the National Weather Service provided at 1:54 p.m. that day showing 23 mph winds in the area with 29 mph gusts. Although practice didn't start until 3:45 p.m., the staff was unaware that at 2:54 p.m. the weather service reported winds of 29 mph with 38 mph gusts two hours before the accident.
The school released the details in a report summarizing its investigation into the accident. Peter Likins, an engineer and former University of Arizona president who provided an independent review of the investigation, wrote that no one person was to blame for the accident.
"Though a needless loss of life cries out for one to shoulder blame, the facts here do not support any single individual finding of fault," he wrote.
The Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, said in the report that he ultimately was responsible.
"Many individuals and departments share the collective responsibility for the inadequacy of the procedures that led to this tragedy," Jenkins wrote. "The university, then, is collectively responsible. 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."
The school noted that three people were most involved in advising coach Brian Kelly on whether it was safe to practice outside: director of football operations Chad Klunder, then-head athletic trainer Jim Russ and Tim Collins, director of football video and film.
"Ultimately, no one not Collins, Klunder, nor Russ told Kelly or any coach that practice should be held indoors or that the lifts should not be used," the report says.
Although Notre Dame staff members weren't aware that the weather service was reporting higher wind speeds, Sullivan was. The report said Sullivan checked the weather before practice at weather.gov and saw a warning indicating the possibility of gusts up to 60 mph. Klunder, Collins and Russ did not recall seeing the wind warning.
The report did say that while Collins was concerned about the wind, "he did not believe that the winds were strong enough to warrant grounding the lifts."
There was no immediate response from Sullivan's family, who have said they hope others will learn from Sullivan's death and take appropriate safety steps. The school has replaced the lifts with remote-controlled cameras.
The report was released two days after spring football practiced wrapped up and about a month after the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration fined Notre Dame $77,500 for six safety violations tied to Sullivan's death, including knowingly putting its employees in an unsafe situation and failing to heed weather service warnings.
University investigators, however, couldn't determine whether Sullivan "felt unsafe and pressure to stay in the lift," specifically questioning his use of the word "terrifying."
"Student videographers indicated their belief that the tweets likely reflected his joking nature, adding that his use of that word was common," the report said.
Jenkins said the university is heeding the words of Sullivan's parents, Barry and Alison, and IOSHA and will work to improve safety on campus and to educate others to help ensure such an accident doesn't happen again, including coming up with a protocol to ensure practices are held in a safe environment. He also said Notre Dame will work with IOSHA to develop a national safety education program.
By Donald Lambro
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