SAN FRANCISCO — NFL opening day excitement this week was tarnished with the death of one fan walking over a pedestrian overpass outside the big game in San Francisco, and injuries to two others from falls inside the Indianapolis stadium.
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Monday that early indications show that 32-year-old Kevin Hayes of nearby Hayward fell accidentally.
“Alcohol may or may not have played a role to some varying degree, but right now, it looks like a very sad, tragic accident,” Suhr said.
Hayes fell while walking with his brother on a bridge raised above four lanes of traffic outside the stadium, connecting a street to Candlestick Park, police said. Off-duty medics and police officers gave him first aid until an ambulance arrived, but authorities from police and medical examiner offices said he was declared dead from his injuries.
The death came just after kickoff in what was eventually San Francisco’s 34-28 win over Green Bay. Multiple witnesses reported that Hayes appeared to be intoxicated before he fell over the rail to a sidewalk below.
Also Sunday, a railing collapsed at the Colts game against the Raiders in Indianapolis, injuring two unidentified fans who were leaning against the barrier above the tunnel leading to Oakland’s locker room.
One person was taken away on a stretcher, while another left in a wheelchair, witnesses said.
After the Colts 21-17 victory, Barney Levengood, executive director of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, issued a statement that said one of the people was released after receiving medical attention at the stadium. The other person was treated at the stadium and transported to Methodist Hospital for additional evaluation. Levengood said that the second fan did not appear to be seriously injured.
49ers spokesman Bob Lange confirmed in a statement that the team had learned of the accident outside the stadium. “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family during this difficult time,” he said in an email.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee added Monday that while he doesn’t know all of the facts regarding the fall, he called the incident “very unfortunate.”
“It certainly marred what otherwise a very happy day for fans who know this is the last opening game we will see in Candlestick,” Lee said. “And, if intoxication was involved, we’ll have to look at that for as well for the fans’ safety. We’ll have a lot of things to look at.”
Since 2003, there have been more than two dozen serious cases of fans falling at stadiums across the United States, according to the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents. That includes a 2007 fatality at Candlestick Park when a fan in the concession area misjudged a jump up to sit on a wall and fell instead from the upper concourse to the mezzanine level, said Alana Penza, director of the institute, which is part of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security, based at the University of Southern Mississippi.
“Sometimes a venue will say this was an accident, but other times they might decide to make adjustments,” said Penza.
She said Monday that while alcohol can raise the danger to fans, “you have to think of how, regardless of alcohol, how easy would it be for you or me to misstep and fall down stairs.”
Historic Candlestick Park closes after this season and will be replaced by a shopping center. Next year, the 49ers will move into a $1.2 billion stadium at the team’s Silicon Valley headquarters in Santa Clara, a steeper design but with many built in safety rails.
Penza noted that stadium fatalities are not limited to football.
In Atlanta, baseball fan Ronald Lee Homer Jr. died last month after falling 85 feet following a tumble over Turner Field’s fourth-level railing. Homer’s death was the third at an Atlanta stadium in the past year.
Also last month in Denver, Broncos fan Noel Robinson was injured when he fell about 10 feet from an escalator at a preseason game.