Fan's death at Braves game raises stadium safety questions

Associated Press

September 1, 2015

            

Atlanta Braves employees stand at the portal of section 401 near where fan Gregory K. Murrey, 60, Alpharetta, Ga., fell from the top deck to his death during Saturday's game between the Braves and the New York Yankees, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA The death of a longtime Braves season-ticket holder raises questions about the height of guard rails at the team's new stadium that is to open in 2017.

The Braves say they had safety in mind when planning SunTrust Park even before Gregory Murrey's death Saturday night.

Team officials Monday would not release plans for railing heights at the new stadium. The railings at Turner Field meet industry requirements, but the team could exceed those heights at their new building.

The International Building Code, the accepted industry standard, has a minimum height requirement of 42 inches for guard rails that act as protective barriers in open-sided areas such as walkways or smoking platforms. Railings in front of seated areas must be 26 inches.

Braves President John Schuerholz didn't address specifics Sunday about guard rails at the new stadium, though he said the weekend death wouldn't influence construction plans.

"We're not going to tie that into how you design a facility," Schuerholz said. "It was a sad, tragic event. We obviously abide by industry regulations and we'll continue to do that. That's what we'll do.

"We made our plans long before this event occurred. Every facility that's getting built, there's a great deal of communication with architects and engineers and the league in terms of abiding by league standards for the industry. We certainly will do that."

The Braves released a statement Monday mourning the loss of Murrey and also addressing safety at the new stadium.

"Finally, as we look to the future, we are working with our architects to ensure that SunTrust Park has effective safety protocols in place at the time of opening," the team said. "This process began during the design phase of SunTrust Park many months ago and will continue every day.

"We are fortunate to have an architecture firm that has designed many ballparks and other sports facilities so we can draw upon their experience as industry leaders in creating the safest and best sports and entertainment experience. Ensuring the safety of our fans while in the ballpark has always been and will always be a priority for our organization."

There is precedent for a team raising its stadium rails following a fan death.

At the Texas Rangers' ballpark in Arlington, Texas, higher railings were installed in 2012. That was done one year after Shannon Stone, a firefighter attending a game with his 6-year-old son, fell about 20 feet after reaching for a foul ball tossed into the stands. The Rangers raised those railings from 33 inches to 42 inches, at a cost of $1.1 million.

The minimum height standards rails have raised questions on whether they are sufficient, especially for taller fans. A 26-inch rail at the bottom of a section of upper-level seats would not reach the waist of a fan taller than 6 feet.

It seems highly unlikely similar changes would be considered for Turner Field, which has only one more year as the team's home. But there would be time to adjust plans, for the new park.

Murrey's death was the third in eight years at Turner Field. In 2013, a fan's death was ruled a suicide. In 2008, police cited alcohol as a factor after a man died.

Murrey, 60, of Alpharetta, Georgia, was pronounced dead at Grady Memorial Hospital following his fall in the seventh inning of the Braves-Yankees game.

The Fulton County medical examiner Monday ruled the death an accident caused by blunt-force injuries to his head and torso. Toxicology results will not be available for several weeks.

Murrey's family on Monday asked for privacy.

"He dearly loved his family, Atlanta, and the Atlanta Braves," the family said in a statement. Murrey held season tickets for 23 years. "The night Greg passed away, he was doing one of his favorite things watching the Braves."

Schuerholz said Sunday his focus was on Murrey's family and players' families and friends who were seated in the lower-level seats where he fell to his death. Schuerholz said fan safety is always a priority.

"It's something every major league team thinks about at all times. ... Not to dismiss the importance of all those (stadium) issues, but there will be another time and another moment to focus on this," he said.