October 27, 2010 4:06 PM, @DecSullivan: “Holy (blank). Holy (blank). This is terrifying.”
On Tuesday, March 15, the day that March Madness officially kicked off, the University of Notre Dame, a two-seed in the men’s basketball tournament, was no longer feeling the high that comes with being awarded a high seed. Instead, the pain felt in October following the accidental death of Declan Sullivan was being brought back to life following the decision by the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration (IOHSA) to fine the university $77,500 for ignoring industry standards that could have helped avoid Sullivan’s death.
Sullivan, a videographer for the Fighting Irish football team, died last year after the hydraulic lift he was using to tape a team practice toppled over amid strong winds. The IOHSA found the Notre Dame had six violations and fined the university for each one. The biggest fine was $55,000 for “knowingly exposing its employees to unsafe conditions by directing its untrained student videographers to use the scissor lift during a period of time when the National Weather Service issued an active wind advisory with sustained winds and guests in excess of the manufactured specifications and warnings.”
For Notre Dame, Sullivan’s death was a tragedy, but no one was held accountable. Head coach Brian Kelly, who is now preparing for his second season with the Irish and is notorious for his dislike of holding practices indoors no matter the weather, has yet to face any discipline, as has anyone else with the team. To Notre Dame, $77,500 is a slap on the wrist. To Kelly, it’s completely ignorable, but to Sullivan’s parents, the death of their 20-year old son can never be fixed.
Barry and Alison Sullivan issued a statement saying that, while they appreciate the thorough investigation, nothing can undo what has happened to their family.
“This report is an important step in preventing future accidents, but its findings do not change the fact that Declan is not with us,” they wrote.
I can’t say that Sullivan’s death, and the subsequent lack of results from Notre Dame to punish those responsible, hasn’t angered me. In my mind, Notre Dame has yet to act because they want to avoid a bigger scandal than they already are dealing with. Additionally, people are reluctant to call-out people in a program as big as Notre Dame’s. However, if this accident happened here, at Miami, someone would have been held responsible by now.
The fine handed down by the IOHSA is important, because at the very least it shows someone, somewhere in South Bend is responsible for Sullivan’s death. However, a fine of $77,500 is chump change when you consider that tuition for Notre Dame is $39,91 and the average cost of room and board is $10,866. Essentially, two first-year students cover the fine and then some.
What is the worth of a human life? Not to get philosophical here but isn’t that what the IOHSA just said to Notre Dame? “You are responsible for a death that could have been avoided. That’ll be $77,500.”
I’d like to think Notre Dame would have done something for the Sullivan’s before now. After all, Declan Sullivan went to work for them. Taping their team. Helping them try to win a championship which would bring Notre Dame money that Sullivan would likely never see.
According to Forbes.com, Notre Dame stands to lose up to $80 million for Sullivan’s death and any punitive damages that it brought, provided that it is determined Sullivan’s death was caused by negligence or misconduct by Notre Dame officials such as Kelly or Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. The IOHSA’s findings could be enough to prove that.
But it doesn’t matter really. For Barry and Alison Sullivan, no amount of money will bring their son back to life. And sadly, their last memory of him will be his final words. A tweet he sent out at 4:06 p.m. the day he died.