July 7, 2011

Arlington officials say ballpark railing exceeds code

A 39-year-old Brownwood firefighter died from blunt-force trauma after falling about 20 feet from the stands during Thursday's game against the A's, the medical examiner has ruled.

ARLINGTON -- Brownwood firefighter Shannon Stone died from blunt force trauma due to his fall from the left-field stands at Rangers Ballpark on Thursday, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner has ruled.

Also Friday, city officials said that the railing over which Stone fell is seven inches higher than required and that the stadium has passed the city of Arlington's "life safety" inspection every year.

"These code requirements are not unique to the city of Arlington but represent the industry standards used by cities and countries worldwide," Building Official Ed Dryden said.

Stone, 39, a lieutenant in the Brownwood Fire Department, fell head-first to the concrete behind the out-of-town scoreboard as he tried to catch a ball tossed up to him by outfielder Josh Hamilton.

He was pronounced dead at John Peter Smith Hospital at 8:20 p.m., less than an hour after the accident.

A fan sitting near Stone said he was attending the game with his young son, who watched as his father tumbled over the rail.

Stone went into full cardiac arrest en route to the Fort Worth hospital, according to the Arlington Fire Department.

Lt. Pedro Arevalo, Arlington Fire Department spokesman, said the city's ambulance contractor decided to transport Stone to John Peter Smith Hospital, the county's only Level 1 trauma center, based on the seriousness of his injuries.

Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital is just over two miles away from Rangers Ballpark.

"He didn't have a full arrest at the time of their departure. Being that he was still breathing and his heart was still pumping, he met the criteria of going to the trauma center for treatment of his injuries," Arevalo said.

"If his heart had stopped while at the incident, he would have been transported to the closest hospital for treatment."

Based on studies by the city's emergency medical provider, Arevalo said it has been determined that ground ambulance transport to a trauma center is faster than calling for an air ambulance and trying to find a landing zone during a crowded event at Rangers Ballpark.

On Friday afternoon, Major League Baseball released a statement that addressed the practice of players tossing balls into the stands.

"Our players are encouraged to be fan-friendly, and we will carefully review this incident with our clubs to continue to ensure a safe environment for our fans."

Stone fell during the second inning of Thursday's game against the A's.

"We had a very tragic accident tonight, and one of our fans lost his life reaching over the wall trying to catch a ball," team president Nolan Ryan said after the game.

"As an organization and as team members and as a staff, we are very heavy-hearted about this, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family."

Stone's Facebook page says he attended Cleburne High School and has been a Brownwood firefighter since February 1993.

Brownwood is about 150 miles southwest of Arlington.

The accident occurred in the second inning. Oakland right fielder Conor Jackson hit a foul ball into the stands down the left-field line, and the ball ricocheted back onto the field.

Hamilton picked it up and threw it toward Stone, who leaned for the ball, slipped and went over the railing head first. The Rangers said that he fell some 20 feet from Section 5 into an opening between the stands and the out-of-town scoreboard.

The game was halted momentarily, and Hamilton continued to look back toward the wall the rest of the inning. Stone was taken out of the stadium on a backboard after an almost immediate response by emergency personnel. He was reportedly talking with rescuers and asking them to take care of his son.

Ronnie Hargis of Hawley was seated next to Stone.

"I tried to grab him, but I couldn't," Hargis said. "I tried to slow him down a little bit. He went straight down."

It was the second fatal fall at a major league stadium this season. In May, a 27-year-old man died after he fell about 20 feet and struck his head on concrete during a Colorado Rockies game.

Stone fell out of sight of the crowd but near the Athletics' bullpen. Relievers Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow and Joey Devine saw him conscious and moving as he was being taken to the hospital.

Ziegler was sobbing in the Oakland clubhouse after the game.

"They had him on a stretcher and were carrying him out," Ziegler said. "He was saying stuff like, 'Please check on my son.' And people were telling him, 'We'll check on your son, sir.'

"I think he had his arm splinted from falling, but he was conscious and moving. To come in and find out about this is just tough."

The Rangers' clubhouse was closed to the media after the Rangers' 6-0 victory in which Hamilton, the reigning American League MVP, had four RBIs.

Ryan said that the team had been informed about the death. Former President George W. Bush was at the game and was aware of the accident, Ryan said.

"We spoke to the ballclub, so they understand what happened," Ryan said. "As any of us would be, Josh is very distraught over this."

The death comes a year and a day after Tyler Morris, a firefighter in Lake Cities, fell from the second level to the lower bowl while trying to catch a foul ball.

Morris suffered a fractured skull and ankle.

In 1994, on the day the ballpark opened, Hollye Minter of Plano fell from Home Run Porch in right field while posing for a picture after the game.

The railing on the upper deck of Home Run Porch was raised to 46 inches.

Minter sued the Rangers and the architects who designed the stadium.

Ryan said the railing where Morris fell last season is 30¼ inches high, which exceeds the 26-inch minimum requirement in the adopted 2003 International Building Code and the 1988 Uniform Building Code, which were used during construction of the ballpark. The railing is 42 inches high at the bottom of the aisles.

"We feel like what we have is adequate," Ryan said after Morris fell. "We feel like this was strictly an accident. The ballpark, when it was built, was built above specs as far as what is accepted, so we feel good about it."

On Friday, Arlington's Dryden said the railing height where Stone fell is 33 inches above the walking surface.

The league's statement said it was "shocked and saddened over the tragic death of Mr. Stone last evening."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his son and his entire family. Major League Baseball has the utmost sensitivity to the safety of all the fans that come to our ballparks."

Staff writers Anthony Andro and Drew Davison contributed to this report.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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