1. Archive

Clot, swelling in brain led to girl's death

Brittanie Nichole Cecil, the 13-year-old spectator struck by a puck at a professional hockey game, died from damage to an artery that runs from the spine to the back of the brain, a coroner ruled Wednesday.

"The puck struck her in the forehead, causing a skull fracture and some bruising of the brain. But that wasn't what led to her death. It was the snapping back of the head and the damage to that artery," Franklin County coroner Brad Lewis said.

He said clotting in the artery led to brain swelling.

"Initially the damage was not significant enough to cause her any problems, but over the ensuing 48 hours the damage progressed," Lewis said.

Cecil was struck Saturday at a National Hockey League Columbus Blue Jackets game. She will be remembered with a moment of silence before tonight's game, a team official said.

She became the first spectator killed at an NHL game. Columbus center Espen Knutsen's slap shot appeared to be deflected by a defenseman, but the puck still had significant force.

The girl walked out of the Nationwide Arena where the game was played against the Calgary Flames, but died Monday at Children's Hospital in Columbus. The trip to the hockey game was an early birthday present for the eighth-grader who was a cheerleader at Twin Valley South Middle School. She would have celebrated her 14th birthday Wednesday.

In addition to the moment of silence, Todd Sharrock, the Blue Jackets' director of communications said Wednesday, "We will disclose information on the memorial fund the family established throughout the game." And, he said, "Beginning (Thursday) night and for the rest of the season, our players will be wearing stickers with her initials on the back of their helmets."

Sharrock said Knutsen was obviously upset. "The puck deflected off an opponent's stick. There's nothing anybody could have done. All of our players are extremely shocked and upset. All of the players expressed their thoughts and prayers to Brittanie's family and friends."

High break-resistant glass sheets surround all but the bench areas at Nationwide Arena. But the slap shot caromed off Calgary defenseman Derek Morris' stick and rocketed into the stands.

A disclaimer is printed on the back of each ticket that warns "pucks flying into spectator areas can cause serious injury. Be alert."

Being alert can provide only so much safety, however. A puck is made of 6 ounces of frozen, vulcanized rubber. NHL players in the annual skills competition on all-star weekend routinely slam slap shots at 100 mph.

U.S. Air Arena in Phoenix is the only NHL venue with netting that protects spectators. The netting is necessary because of an overhang in a balcony, but no other part of the seating is protected.

However, "there is no requirements of nets," said Frank Brown, NHL vice president of media relations.

"The panel of glass at the end of rinks are 8 feet high, but the rule book allows latitude with regard to the height of the board to which the glass is placed. The rule book recommended the ideal height of 42 inches, but also declares that they should be no lower than 40 inches and no higher than 48, so there can be variance from venue to venue."

In the wake of the accident, Brown said, "We will undertake a very detailed study of every aspect of this tragic accident. We are going to look at everything we do in the presentation of our games. We are going to do it deliberately, we are going to do it carefully, and if it is determined that something needs to be done we will do it."

Brown said, "We have over 85 seasons played in front of hundreds of millions of spectators. . . . Our buildings have been shown to be safe environments for our fans. It will take significant study to determine what else can be done."