Notre Dame issues final report on student’s death

April 19, 2011

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The president of the University of Notre Dame said Monday that “no one person” is to blame in the accidental death of a 20-year-old student at the campus last fall.

But still, the Rev. John I. Jenkins says he bears full responsibility for the death of Declan Sullivan.
“The Sullivans entrusted Declan to our care and we failed to keep him safe,” Jenkins said.

Sullivan, a native of Long Grove, Illinois, was videotaping Notre Dame’s football practice at the South Bend campus on Oct. 27. He was on top of a hydraulic lift when a 53 mile per hour gust of wind toppled it. Sullivan died from injuries sustained in the fall.

Following Sullivan’s death, the state of Indiana and Notre Dame conducted separate investigations.
Jenkins announced the findings of the school’s final report.

He says it concludes that there were four main factors that contributed to Sullivan’s death, but the report did not point a finger at a specific person.

“In the grief and distressed that follows a tragic accident it is common to seek the individual or individuals responsible and assign blame,” Jenkins said. “We have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety.”

Notre Dame’s report says football staff likely would have grounded the lifts had they seen National Weather Service reports showing wind speeds of 29 mph with gusts of 38 mph.

But the report says staff used an earlier forecast that did not have the warnings leading up to practice that day.
The school’s independent investigation was conducted by Peter Likins, president emeritus at the University of Arizona.

“What we have found,” Affleck-Graves said, “is that numerous decisions by many people – made in good faith on that day, and even over the course of several years – played a role in the accident.”  

In March Indiana’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration fined Notre Dame $77,000 for safety violations related to Sullivan’s death.