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University gathers in mourning of Declan Sullivan

Oct 29, 2010, 12:22 AM EST

With hundreds standing outside of the Basilica unable to get inside, Rev. John Jenkins presided over an overflowing Mass in memory of junior Declan Sullivan Thursday night at 10 p.m. Sullivan was remember by friends and students, and honored by a large group of friends who wore neon sunglasses in Sullivan’s honor.

Earlier in the day, vice president of Public Affairs Jan Botz introduced Father Jenkins at a 2 p.m. press conference where Jenkins spoke of the terrible tragedy by saying, there is “no greater sadness for a college community than the loss of one of its students.”

Jenkins then handed off to athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who gave a harrowing account of Wednesday’s tragic events, which took place just as Swarbrick entered the team’s practice facilities.

“My personal involvement began when I went to practice yesterday. I had a conference call at 4:30 that lasted about 15 minutes. So I would guess I entered the practice facility sometime around 4:47 or 4:48. “I walked across the north end of the west field, toward the middle of the area between the two synthetic fields. It was an unremarkable journey in the sense that practice was normal, plays were being conducted with no difficulty. Matter of fact, I witnessed two completed passes as I was walking up and greeted someone.

“I turned to face north and experienced a pretty extraordinary burst of wind. Things started flying by me that otherwise had been stationary for all of practice. Gatorade containers, towels, etc. I noticed the netting on the goal posts start to bend dramatically, and I heard a crash. At first I couldn’t orient the location of the crash. Because of course the source of the crash was something that wasn’t there anymore. The scissor lift had fallen north out of the practice field.”

Swarbrick continued to detail the day’s events as both he and head coach Brian Kelly remained by Declan’s side until emergency responders arrived within minutes and were able to get Declan on a lift and into an ambulance. Swarbrick was told that Declan was unable to breath on his own in the ambulance and learned of his death shortly after Sullivan’s arrival at Memorial Hospital.

With more questions than answers, both the Notre Dame police department and Indiana OSHA are conducting investigations to get to the bottom of the many variables in place that contributed to the tragic loss of a student-manager that was merely doing his job in very dangerous weather conditions.

“I know there’s a lot of speculation about what may or may not have happened, but that’s what the investigation is for,” Swarbrick said. “And we’ll let that investigation thoroughly and completely run its course. And then we’ll have the ability to really understand what happened, to learn from it and to move forward from it.”

Declan’s immediate family, including his parents, 15-year-old brother, and sister who is a freshman at Notre Dame, were all in attendance at afternoon press conference, and were with Father Doyle throughout the afternoon.

Notre Dame decided against canceling the football game this Saturday, but Swarbrick made it clear that winning on Saturday wasn’t what was important to them.

“In all the extraordinary emotions that have sort of overwhelmed me since yesterday afternoon, thinking about how we’re going to do on Saturday isn’t one of them,” Swarbrick said. “We care about winning and losing here, but it doesn’t matter right now. What matters is taking care of these young men, honoring Declan’s memory and getting ourselves moving forward.”

  1. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 29, 2010 at 9:15 PM

    Anyone who thinks Swarbrick’s comments were off the cuff and not the result of probably a 2 hour meeting designed to limit the school’s liability is simply kidding themselves. Here is a translation of Jack’s legalese:

    1) “Matter of fact, I witnessed two completed passes…” Translation: “It wasn’t windy enough to prevent the team from attempting a pass. Everybody knows that heavy winds, had they been present, would’ve limited us to a ground game at the very least, or driven us indoors (like Ohio State that day).”

    2) “I turned to face North and experienced a pretty extraordinary burst of wind. Things started flying by me that otherwise had been stationary for all of practice.” Translation: “I really don’t know if things were flying around or not during ‘all of practice’ because I had just arrived at the practice field. I do, however, want to stress that this was an ‘extraordinary’ burst of wind because that way, we can rely on an Act of God defense and claim that we had no way of foreseeing this event and thus limit our legal liability to this grieving family.”

    C’mon Jack, this family deserves better from their caring ND family. Oh wait, I forgot, there’s going to be decals on the helmets.

    I hope this family lawyers up themselves real soon. They are at a real disadvantage if they don’t. ND can simply continue to taint the potential jury pool with their one-sided PR campaign. If Sullivan was working, there is a workers’ comp claim and also a negligence/product liability claim against the machine mfr, owner, operator, and the university and any of their agents, servants and/or employees who had control over whether Sullivan went up that day or not and whether practice should have been outside or not. If he was a paid employee, then Sullivan’s own actions ( vis-a-vis whether he was comparatively at fault for failing to refuse to go up or in staying up there too long) will not enter into the case.

    Before any of you attempt to bemoan the legal system, realize that a lawsuit is the only thing that we, as a society, offer to the victim and his family as a means of righting this wrong. From all accounts so far, they certainly have been wronged. A verdict should be large enough to catch the attention of coaches and AD’s everywhere so this doesn’t happen again. Finally, let me ask you: If this was your child and you got this horrendous nightmare of a phone call, would you take legal action, or would you believe Jack’s statements about extraordinary bursts of wind which are really, no pun intended, so much hot air. Yeah, I thought so.

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