Nolan Ryan: Safety is 'No. 1 concern'
Fans Recount Tragedy
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan said safety is the club's "No. 1 concern" and that his staff is continuing to review Thursday's tragedy and how it can be prevented in the future.
"We'll do whatever we have to do to make this stadium as safe as we possibly can for our fans," Ryan said during a news conference Friday afternoon.
Ryan said he spoke to Brownwood's Jenny Stone, the widow of 39-year-old Shannon Stone, who fell over the left-field railing and landed on the concrete about 20 feet below as he caught a ball thrown to him by Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. Stone was conscious after the fall and, according to Oakland Athletics reliever Brad Ziegler, asked paramedics to check on his 6-year-old son, Cooper.
Stone was taken to a local hospital and died Thursday night.
Replays showed the boy watching as his 6-foot-3 father stretched out to grab the ball and then fell through a gap of several feet between the left-field seats and the 14-foot-high outfield wall that has a video scoreboard on it.
City officials say the building code requires the guardrails to be at least 26 inches high. Ed Dryden, Arlington's building official, said railings throughout the park are 33 inches high.
Dryden and Jim Parajon, the city's director of community development and planning, said they made sure on Friday that the railings where Stone fell were up to code.
"It is a very tragic situation and we feel for the family of the victim," Parajon said.
Major League Baseball promised a review of the incident "to ensure a safe environment for our fans."
John McHale Jr., MLB's executive vice president of administration, said there is no centralized process for overseeing safety at ballparks and Stone's death may change that.
"I think the enormity of this tragedy requires we create a process, if there isn't one already," he said. "I think we're going to communicate as closely as we can with the Rangers to find out what happened and to share that information with the other clubs."
He said most safety issues are left to the clubs.
"There are building codes, there are local ordinances and the clubs are responsible with complying," he said. "We have a history of trying to control balls thrown in the stands centrally and I think that probably didn't work, so we rely on the clubs to make their own decisions on how that should be done or not done in their ballpark."
The accident was similar to one almost exactly a year earlier.
Tyler Morris, a firefighter from the Lake Cities Fire Department near Dallas, fractured his skull and sprained an ankle on July 6, 2010, after falling about 30 feet from the second deck of seats down the right-field line while trying to catch a foul ball.
Following that event, the Rangers studied the railings and determined they were up to code. They added signage in the aisles to warn fans to not lean on the rails.
"The fact that there's two (falls) in the last year is disturbing," Ryan said. "We're going to look into this."
Ryan said fans can sit in those same seats Friday night, but they'll see a tarp covering the gap where Stone fell to discourage fans from taking pictures out of respect to the family. A few years ago, the Rangers had a decking in that gap, but took it down because too many fans were jumping down to retrieve balls. They have not determined what they'll do in that area yet, whether it's potentially adding netting or something else.
"We'll do a study on that and we don't know what if there is anything we could do, but we're certainly open to anything we can," Ryan said.
Ryan said a ball going into the stands is part of the game and a way for players to connect with fans and make "the experience at the ballpark as memorable as possible."
However, Rangers outfielder David Murphy said he'll be very hesitant to throw balls in the stands to fans in the future.
On Thursday, Ryan was seated next to Laura Bush, who attended the game with former President George W. Bush. Ryan did not actually see Stone fall.
"I followed the ball out to left field and I was talking to Laura and looked back at here and then I heard the crowd," Ryan said. "I looked up and saw those people looking over. The Secret Service agent was sitting behind me and I turned to him and asked, 'Did you see something happen out there?' and he said, 'Yes, a person fell out of the stands,' which I felt like what happened because of the reaction I was seeing."
A wake will be held Sunday, and Stone's funeral will be held Monday at the First United Methodist Church in Brownwood, Texas. The fire department will honor Stone with a full procession, including bagpipes, trucks and the entire staff in full uniform. Several fire departments in the surrounding areas have volunteered to cover the Brownwood fire department so all of its firefighters can attend.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.