Blog Entry

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

Posted on: April 18, 2011 11:48 am

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Notre Dame has released the report following its internal investigation regarding the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan, and president Rev. John Jenkins has said that the university as a whole is to blame. 

"The university ... is collectively responsible," Jenkins said. "Insofar as the President is responsible for the university as a whole, I am the individual who bears the most responsibility, and I accept that responsibility."

But Jenkins' acceptance may not quiet critics angered by the report's claim that "no one acted in disregard for safety" when 53 miles-per-hour winds overturned Sullivan's hydraulic lift last fall. To read not-so-deeply between the lines of Jenkins' open letter on the incident, blame must be shared "collectively" since it cannot be assigned individually:

"After a thorough and painstaking study in which numerous university personnel were interviewed and external experts consulted, we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety," school president Rev. John Jenkins wrote in an open letter posted on the school's web site. 

"Each individual involved based his decisions and actions that day on the best information available at the time and in accord with the procedures that were in place." 

Said Notre Dame executive vice president John Affleck-Graves: "What we found 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."

The report seemed to specifically absolve head coach Brian Kelly, concluding that he "depends on" other staff members (a directore of football operations, a trainer, etc.) to provide him with accurate weather information.

In line with the above conclusions, Jenkins has confirmed that no one at Notre Dame has been individually disciplined for the failures that led to Sullivan's death. (The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration did fine the school more than $77,000 for "ignoring industry standards" in the incident.)

"The Sullivans entrusted Declan to our care and we failed to keep him safe. We will live with this for the rest of our lives," Jenkins wrote. No will argue otherwise. But without the university issuing so much as a fine in response to an entirely preventable death of a student on their watch, Jenkins will also have to live with what is sure to be a firestorm of continuing criticism.


Since: Nov 17, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 4:29 pm

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety
Had someone, anyone actually acted WITH regard for safety, one kid would still be alive.

Since: Mar 25, 2009
Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:47 pm

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

You know where you can stick your scissor lift.

Since: Jan 17, 2008
Posted on: April 19, 2011 2:09 pm

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety

Oh wow, a first rate CYA statement if I ever heard one.  The truth is everyone involved acted with disregard for safety.

Since: Apr 26, 2007
Posted on: April 18, 2011 3:56 pm

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

My favorite quote of Jenkins' letter:

we have reached the conclusion that no one acted in disregard for safety

What he should have written is that no one acted at all.  His clever wording basically says that we didn't intentionally kill the kid; we just didn't really make any effort to make sure he didn't die.  As a coach for a high school soccer team, if anyone gets hurt while under my watch, no matter if it's a player, the ball boy, the team manager or some girls watching their boyfriends on the sidelines during practice, I am liable.  If it's due to a storm, a freak accident, or my negligence, it doesn't matter.  If there are 50+ MPH wind gusts, I am going to end practice that day, just like I would for a lightning storm or any other severe weather.  For Kelly to be absolved from any responsibility of the incident is complete B.S.  He relies on info from HIS staff, and gets updates on weather from HIS personnel.  Not the other way around.  If everyone on the field is required to report to him, then Kelly is primarily responsible for everything that happens out there.  If he wants to lay blame on his subordinates, that's his prerogative.  To say he isn't at fault for what happened is a bunch of crap.  I know I would be done coaching if something terrible happened at my practice field, and that would be the least of my worries.

Since: Jun 25, 2010
Posted on: April 18, 2011 2:23 pm

ND: Individuals not responsible in Sullivan death

The comment that no single individual is responsible for the actions taken at that practice is either made out of ignorance (not likely) or assumes that we, the general public, are all ignorant. Notre Dame clearly does not want any single individual - AD, Head Coach, an Assistant Coach - to take the burden of responsiblility for this terrible tragedy. But come on Notre Dame, really... If a tornado was approaching the practice facility - SOMEONE - probably Coach Kelly - would have the responsibility to evacuate the practice facility and herd everyone to shelter. If there was a lightning storm, SOMEONE would be responsible for determining that it is too dangerous to practice outdoors. By the same reasoning, if it is extremely windy - SOMEONE must be responsible for saying "get those scissor lifts lowered and let's make sure that everyone here at the practice facility, including videographers, is safe". You do not need an up to the minute weather report to recognize a tornado, lightning, or high winds of an intensity such that they would knock over a scizzors lift. All you need is your five senses and some common sense, too. This is purely an effort to spread the blame so no specific target of wrongdoing can be established. CYA ND, CYA.

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