Some fans attending the Washington Wizards’ 110-103 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at Capital One Arena experienced strong physical reactions from an unknown scent.
Late in the game, people seated around section 104 smelled a strange, smoky odor and recall feeling a sensation that caused coughing, sneezing and, for some, throat irritation. Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns Capital One Arena, released a statement saying that security conducted an investigation and found that the source of the odor “was not determined.”
A group of fans in rows P through U of section 104 voluntarily evacuated the area, according to several witnesses. In the arena’s configuration for Wizards and Georgetown basketball games, section 104 stretches from rows A through U, and an exit separates the remaining four rows (V to Y).
Darryl Watkins, who watched the game from row P, said he began to notice something unusual during a stoppage of play with 3:01 remaining in the game.
“Once the T-shirt toss ended, the air just smelled different,” the Fort Washington resident said. “Something happened, and I just started to cough. I felt that I was getting sick and I didn’t think nothing of it at first but I couldn’t stop coughing and my throat started feeling odd, like real scratchy.”
Watkins, who attended the game with a season ticket holder, chose to leave with his friend after noticing others experiencing similar reactions.
“I’m coughing and I see him sneezing and I started listening to everybody else,” Watkins said. “I look around, everybody’s coughing, eyes are red, tears are dripping down their faces. … At one point it just became too much, and the best thing to do was to leave.”
Andrew Earle, in row S, seat 6, thought he smelled something on fire and felt a burning sensation in his nose.
“It was kind of hard to breathe,” Earle said.
Although the Wizards were locked in a tight game, leading by three points at that time, Earle said he and his friend were part of the first group of people to leave early.
“It was crunch time and it was a time when everybody would have been in there watching the game,” Earle said. “Once we exited and we were outside, we just saw just groups of people coming out. It kind of looked like the game was over and people were leaving, but the game was still going on. So we knew that a lot of people experienced what we did.”
Earle said he saw a nearby exit in the concourse and opened the door to get fresh air while a security guard looked on. Marcus Harrington, a season ticket holder in section 104, row Q, said he and his wife followed a crowd after they experienced uncontrollable coughing and a “tingly” sensation in his throat. Harrington said he did not initially notice arena ushers or security leading the evacuation.
“When people started coughing, my fears went crazy. I thought something had happened. I just went out. Nobody told us to go out,” said Harrington, who lives in Annapolis. “It was just confusion.”
Amid the bewilderment, several people described arena workers as being just as taken aback.
“Everybody was really confused, just not knowing what was going on,” Bryan Frantz said. “It seemed like the officials and the people working there didn’t know what was going on either.”
According to the Monumental Sports & Entertainment release, arena workers reacted upon receiving reports from fans and no one requested medical assistance.
“Ushers and security personnel responded immediately after an unusual odor was reported that led some patrons to leave the affected section during the fourth quarter of last night’s Wizards game,” the statement read. “No one in the area reported seeing anything to security either upon their arrival or after they had conducted their investigation and no patrons requested first aid or assistance.”
Frantz was in attendance to report on the game and was seated in the section 104 media row generally reserved for bloggers. Late in the fourth quarter, Frantz said he noticed a faint but foreign smell.
“No one seemed to be taking it seriously at first. Like, man, something smells bad. … It was a weird smell that no one really liked. Then it got stronger and stronger,” he said. “Kind of all at once people started getting up — and not running — but quickly walking to the exits.”
The Wizards announced a crowd of 18,762 for the game. On Sunday, the arena hosted the Washington Capitals’ game against the St. Louis Blues. The venue uses walk-through metal detectors for every event, according to the Capital One Arena security policy,” and all bags carried in by patrons are searched before entering the arena.
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