SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Workplace safety officials on Thursday were investigating the death of a Notre Dame student who was videotaping football practice when the tower he was in toppled as high wind gusts swept through Indiana.
Declan Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from Long Grove, Ill., died Wednesday at a South Bend hospital after being transported from the LaBar practice complex.
The National Weather Service said winds in the area were gusting to 51 mph at the time when the hydraulic scissor lift, which can be lowered or raised depending on needs, fell over. The football team had practiced indoors the day before because of the blustery conditions caused by a fierce storm.
The university did not return calls seeking comment on Wednesday, and it was not clear who authorized Sullivan to go up in the scissor lift to videotape Wednesday’s practice. It also was not clear who made the scissor lift. But one manufacturer of scissor lifts, HHS Wire, said on its website that the device should not be used in winds above 25 mph.
Sullivan’s parents were meeting with Notre Dame officials on Thursday, and the family had many questions about his death, his uncle Mike Miley told the Chicago Tribune.
“We’re still digesting the news ourselves,” Miley told the Tribune.
The student, who also wrote for the student newspaper, reportedly posted messages on his Facebook page just before the tower fell, expressing his concerns with being on the lift with high winds. His uncle told the newspaper that the family has decided to keep his Facebook page open so friends can post messages.
“I was satisfied to learn that he was going into a media-related field. I could just see that he was having so much fun taking pictures and filming,” Miley told the Tribune.
Matt Gamber, editor in chief of The Observer, the independent student newspaper for the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, said Sullivan was majoring in marketing and film and had written about arts and entertainment events for the newspaper over two years.
“He was an extremely enthusiastic and a really driven kid, and that really showed through for us in his writing. He had a lot of excitement and energy for the events and subjects he covered,” Gamber said.
“Those who know him the best describe him as an enthusiastic, really fun guy to be around,” Gamber said.
The newspaper reported about 200 people attended a memorial Mass for Sullivan on Wednesday night in the chapel of his dormitory. Afterward, attendees processed to a campus shrine, where about 150 students recited part of the rosary.
Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Marc Lotter said Thursday the agency had an investigator on the scene in South Bend. He said it was too early to say when the agency, which has the authority to levy fines, might release a report.
“Declan was a diligent student worker in our video department and had a tremendous personality and great sense of humor,” Coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday in a release. “He brightened the days for all that had the privilege to work with him, and the Notre Dame football family will dearly miss him.”
Notre Dame was making grief counselors available for students, and university president Rev. John Jenkins will preside over a special Mass in Sullivan’s memory on Thursday.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss,” Jenkins said. “Our hearts go out to the student’s family and friends and our prayers and profound sympathies are with them during this incredibly difficult time. The loss of someone so young is a terrible shock and a great sadness. Our entire community shares in the family’s grief.”
The Fighting Irish, who host Tulsa this Saturday, canceled post-practice interviews after Wednesday’s accident.
“In the midst of a season where you are disappointed with the outcomes … you can lose sight of what’s most important. Sad day at practice,” senior linebacker Brian Smith posted on his Twitter page on Wednesday. “I will never forget today.”
Associated Press writers Ken Kusmer and Rick Callahan contributed to this report from Indianapolis.