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Student was terrified just before dying in lift's fall

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — As Notre Dame drilled on its practice field, Declan Sullivan stood high above the turf in a hydraulic lift, videotaping the session so players could get an aerial view of their performance.

Suddenly, the wind, already whipping so much that Sullivan tweeted that it was "terrifying," surged as high as 51 mph. The lift toppled over, crashing through a fence before coming to rest in a street just behind a goal post.

"Things started flying by me that had been stationary for all of practice; Gatorade containers, towels," Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Thursday. "I noticed the netting by the goal post start to bend dramatically, and I heard a crash."

Sullivan, a junior film student from the Chicago suburb of Long Grove, Ill., was taken to a hospital. But Swarbrick said he received a call from the ambulance before it arrived saying the 20-year-old was not breathing. He was soon pronounced dead.

The lifts used by Notre Dame extend to about 50 feet. Swarbrick said he did not know how high Sullivan was when the machine fell over, and it was unclear who authorized Sullivan to go up in it.

As a student worker, Sullivan reported to a video coordinator associated with the team. Swarbrick said the decision to practice outdoors is left up to the teams.

Just before the practice began, Sullivan posted Twitter messages in which he said, "Gusts of wind up to 60 mph today will be fun at work … I guess I've lived long enough."

Less than an hour before the accident, he tweeted again, saying it was "terrifying" to be on the tower in the high winds.

Swarbrick said he was aware of the tweets and promised to look into "all the dynamics" of the death. Workplace safety officials from the state of Indiana also have started an investigation.

A safety consultant with Workplace Group LLC, a Chapel Hill, N.C.-based consortium with expertise in occupational safety, said wind gusts of 50 mph are much too high for the safe outdoor use of any Scissor Lift. Some manufacturers make lifts that can be used in winds up to 25 mph, but W. Jon Wallace said he would recommend against using one in winds above 10 mph: "Having 50 mph winds with someone inside the Scissor Lift, it's just an accident waiting to happen."

Sullivan's parents met with school officials on Thursday. And the family had many questions about Sullivan's death, his uncle, Mike Miley, said: "We're still digesting the news ourselves."

Basketball: Duke No. 1, UF 9th

Defending national champion Duke was a runaway No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 basketball poll.

Florida is ranked ninth.

Duke, on top for a seventh time, has two starters returning to a roster featuring top freshman Kyrie Irving and transfer Seth Curry, Stephen's little brother.

"To repeat is a bad word (to use)," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ".What you want to do is have the same result, of winning the national championship, but figure out what journey you're going to be on along the way. … Pursue is a good word for me."

Duke received 55 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel, easily outdistancing Michigan State. Kansas State was third, followed by Ohio State and Pittsburgh.


Mountain West move delayed: Nevada and Fresno State have agreed to play one more season in the WAC before moving to the Mountain West in 2012 and will pay significantly less to make the move than the WAC had demanded. The schools wanted to move for the 2011-12 school year. But the WAC sued, alleging they failed to provide proper notice to leave the league and would owe a $5 million departure fee. Instead, the WAC said the sides reached an agreement that allows the schools to move effective June 30, 2012, in exchange for a buyout of $900,000 each. Boise State, which the WAC previously said did provide proper notice, is leaving for the Mountain West for the 2011-12 school year.

Clemson: Linebacker Brandon Maye is expected to play Saturday after sitting out last week with a calf injury.

Kentucky: Leading rusher Derrick Locke will miss his third consecutive game with a shoulder stinger.

Michigan St.: Starting defensive back Chris Rucker was reinstated to the team after his completion of an eight-day jail stint for a probation violation. Coach Mark Dantonio said it would be the senior's decision whether he plays Saturday. In 2009, Rucker was sentenced to 12 months probation and 150 hours of community service for his role in a fight. On Oct. 10, he was arrested on a charge of drunken driving and later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving.

Missouri: The school said it won't seek charges against 30 fans arrested for rushing onto the field after Saturday's win over Oklahoma.

Oklahoma St.: School officials determined receiver Justin Blackmon did not break NCAA rules while attending Monday's Dallas Cowboys game.

Student was terrified just before dying in lift's fall 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:58pm]
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