One year ago, Notre Dame student videographer Declan Sullivan had his life end after a wind storm tipped over the lift he was filming football practice on. The tragedy was immense — his death a terrible mix of circumstance, poor decision making, and outdated protocol. After a thorough investigation, Notre Dame released its own internal report and Indiana’s OSHA board fined the school $42,000 for safety violations.
Family and friends grieved the loss of a life far too young, while those watching from afar whispered about the legal ramifications. It took less than a week for Forbes.com to hypothesize that the accident could cost Notre Dame $30 million dollars. They were far from alone, as message-boards and websites took aim at people they could blame — the head coach, the athletic director, the video coordinator, the university president — any and all thought culpable by those hoping to tidy this tragedy up.
That thought process never consumed the Sullivan family as they grieved the loss of Declan. One year after the tragedy, the Chicago Tribune sat down exclusively with Barry Sullivan, Declan’s father, to discuss how the family has moved forward.
In his first extensive interview since his son’s death a year ago, Barry Sullivan told the Tribune that his family was never interested in suing the university and has not received a financial settlement from the school. He does not blame the storied college football program for the accident, either.
Rather than allow their grief to manifest itself as anger or legal vengeance, he and his wife, Alison, have devoted the last 12 months to making sure something beneficial comes from their very public tragedy.
“It was not our first impulse to go out and hire a lawyer. That’s not the way we’re wired,” Barry Sullivan said. “We never really felt a reason to pursue any kind of legal action. Why would you do that? … We didn’t want to take resources and energy away from other positive things that might happen by tying up people with lawsuits and other actions.”
The family has plunged their work into the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial fund, splitting the more than $100,000 of donations between Chicagoland educational pursuits like Horizons for Youth, St. Mary’s School and Carmel Catholic High School. In addition to a national safety campaign for aerial lifts run in conduction with the Indiana Department of Labor, Notre Dame has also announced an endowed scholarship in Sullivan’s name, which “will assist students who are not only in financial need, but who also have demonstrated the traits that made Declan original, whether through a particular interest in filmmaking, service to under-privileged youth, creative writing, or other passions.”
The loss of Sullivan is still fresh in the hearts and minds of those that knew and loved Sullivan. Private masses will be held for Declan’s dorm-mates at Fisher Hall and a mass will be held at Lewis Hall as well, where Declan’s sister Wyn lives. The university dedicated a memorial to Declan’s memory last weekend, just outside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex and the LaBar Practice Fields.
“Dec would want us to go on and remember him in a positive way,” Barry Sullivan told the Chicago Tribune. “I’d like to think we’re doing that.”