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Man "lucky to be alive" after falling off Tropicana Field escalator

ST. PETERSBURG — A 27-year-old man remained hospitalized in serious condition Thursday after plummeting off the third-floor escalator at Tropicana Field during the previous night's Rays-Red Sox game.

"He's lucky to be alive," said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Lt. Joel Granata of the injured man, Jason Graham of Palmetto.

That's because Graham didn't fall straight to the concrete floor 40 feet below after Wednesday night's game.

He hit a support beam on his way down, leaving leg and foot imprints in the dust. The beam is halfway between the first and third floors and may have slowed his fall.

That, and the fact that Graham's head didn't hit anything, may have saved his life.

"If he had fallen on his head, he would be dead," Granata said. "I think the beam probably broke his fall and slowed his descent."

A witness told firefighters that Graham was sitting side-saddle on the escalator's rail.

Graham was with family around Gate 3 when the incident happened about 10 p.m., authorities said, as they were leaving the Trop after the Rays 6-4 victory.

He suffered broken bones in both legs and other serious injuries, police said.

Graham fell in front of scores of baseball fans — and fortunately didn't injure anyone else with his fall.

But it was a scene none of them will soon forget.

Steve Lavely, 53, said he was at the top of the escalator with his kids, about 10 feet above Graham, when the man fell.

Graham was with an older couple and a young boy, according to Lavely. The boy screamed when Graham went over the side wall of the escalator.

"I will never forget the scream," he said. "My kids sat down and prayed afterwards. They were just mortified."

He said a crowd quickly gathered. People were "freaking out." Graham lay still on the floor in front of everyone.

"Unfortunately, it was like a train wreck," Lavely said. "You couldn't help but look."

Bayfront Medical Center said Graham was in serious condition on Thursday. His family declined an interview request, according to hospital officials.

The St. Petersburg Police Department said it took a report on the incident but did not launch an investigation.

"There's no foul play suspected," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

A Rays official said Thursday that the team started its own investigation but declined to comment further.

Lavely is a personal injury lawyer but said he wouldn't take this case. For one thing, he's a witness.

Secondly, the lawyer said, in his opinion, Graham may not have anyone else to blame.

"He's got to be 99.9 percent at fault," Lavely said.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Man "lucky to be alive" after falling off Tropicana Field escalator 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 9:58pm]
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