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Fan dies in fall at Turner Field, raising issue of safety at sports events again

Police investigate the fatal fall of a baseball fan at Turner Field in Atlanta. (Video: Reuters)

A 60-year-old Georgia man died at an Atlanta hospital after a horrifying fall from Turner Field’s upper deck Saturday night in Atlanta, becoming the third fan to die in a fall at the ballpark since 2008 and offering another sobering reminder about fan safety at sports events.

Greg Murrey, a 23-year season ticket holder from Alpharetta, died upon arrival at Grady Memorial Hospital after falling at least 40 feet from the top deck to the concrete on the first level during the Braves’ game against the New York Yankees. Fans told ESPN that he fell as he was yelling toward the field as the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez came up to bat — to lusty boos — in the top of the seventh inning.

“When they called A-Rod coming to bat, he got all excited, and his momentum took him over,” Marty Burns, a fan from Vernon, Ala., told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

[Fans dies in fall]

Fans scattered and looked on in horror as paramedics administered CPR. There were several pools of blood on the concrete where he was lying.

“People started crying right away,” Donnie Marley of Fayetteville, N.C., told the AJC. “A lot of people left. It was surreal. It was like, ‘Did I just see that happen?'”

Police say the fall appears to have been a tragic accident.

“Right now preliminary investigation reveals there is no type of foul play but we need to wait until the medical examiner rules on the cause of death,” Atlanta police lieutenant Charles Hampton said (via the AJC). “We’re asking anybody who’s in the area to come forward and let us know what they saw. But we don’t believe it was anything suspicious.”

Adam Staudacher, a fan from Atlanta, told the Associated Press that the fan appeared to land headfirst on a three-foot-wide walkway between sections.

“There were a ton of kids right there,” he said. “It was a disturbing scene. Disturbing doesn’t really go far enough.”

The man is the third to have died in a Turner Field fall since 2008. According to the AJC, Ronald Lee Homer Jr., a 30-year-old Braves fan from Conyers, Ga., died in August 2013 after climbing over a railing and leaping to his death in a parking lot 85 feet below. Although his family said his death was an accident, it was ruled a suicide. In 2008, Justin Hayes, a 25-year-old man from Cumming, Ga., fell several levels inside the stadium to the field level, hitting a concrete and steel railing as he fell. He died of his injuries, and police cited alcohol as a factor.

But safety at ballparks isn’t an issue solely at Turner Field — nor is it limited to baseball.

In 2011, two fans died from injuries suffered at big-league baseball games. A 27-year-old man fell about 20 feet and struck his head on concrete during a Colorado Rockies home game. Witnesses told police that he lost his balance as he tried to slide down a staircase railing at Coors Field. Later that season, Shannon Stone, a 39-year-old firefighter attending a game with his 6-year-old son, died after he fell about 20 feet as he attempted to catch a baseball tossed toward him by Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, his son’s favorite player, at the Rangers’ ballpark.

This season, there have been questions about the safety of fans seated in the lower, field-level seats, where batted balls can scream into the stands. Recently, Justin Verlander and Nick Castellanos of the Detroit Tigers called for baseball to extend netting to protect fans after a fan was struck at Comerica Park.

“I think that if you extend [the nets] a little bit — and they don’t have to be super high,” Verlander said. “We have enough stats in this game. I think you can break down numbers and say, ‘Okay, this is where you’re really in danger of the hard-hit line drive, the low line drive that just misses the dugout.’ I think much higher than that it’s usually popped up or you’re not really in danger. But those low liners, they catch us off guard in the dugout and we’re Major League Baseball players. We still get hit. So, everybody else can be in serious danger.”

Earlier this season, a fan at Fenway Park was struck by a broken bat.

[Ballpark safety an issue in 2011]

“If [the Comerica Park incident] doesn’t get nets up, what else is it going to take?” Castellanos said. “I mean, look what happened in Boston to the lady that got hit with, I think [Brett] Lawrie’s broken bat. What else has to happen for nets to go up?”

But a bit of the responsibility for safety lies with fans, who sometimes lose sight of the fact that stadiums, ballparks and arenas can be inherently dangerous places. Major League Baseball teams issue reminders to be alert during games and is presently reviewing stadium safety. Putting up nets isn’t as simple as it sounds, though, because the uniqueness that makes ballparks charming makes it harder to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution.

Nor is the problem limited to baseball games. Fans have been injured and killed in falls at football stadiums and in 2010, a 2-year-old died after a fall at a Lakers game in Staples Center. In late August 2012, a 20-year-old fan died after falling over a railing at the Georgia Dome during the Tennessee-North Carolina football game. He landed on another fan in the alcohol-related incident, according to law enforcement authorities. Just over three weeks later, a man fell about 25 feet over a staircase railing at the Georgia Tech-Miami game in the Georgia Dome. He was not seriously hurt.

Also in the summer of 2012, a 25-year-old Houston man died after falling about 60 feet from a fifth-floor escalator at Reliant Stadium during a Houston Texans preseason game.

On Saturday night, the Braves drew a ton of criticism, but not for the reason you might think. The team did not stop the game, which drew an announced crowd of over 49,000, for the moments during which paramedics attended Murrey and fans were angry on social media.

On Sunday, the Braves honored Murrey with a moment of silence and lowered flags to half staff.