How A Notre Dame Student Died, And Why He Shouldn't Have

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

At precisely 4:50 pm, a 50-foot scissor lift tower collapsed in winds exceeding 50 mph, killing the 20-year-old student filming football practice for the team. It shouldn't have come to that.

The Midwest has been buffeted by powerful storms this week, with the lowest non-hurricane barometric pressure ever recorded in the continental US. It spawned tornadoes, hail and gale force winds.

With winds on Tuesday reaching 52 mph, Brian Kelly was forced to take practice inside to the Loftus Center, which he despises. In the spring he was forced to use it during a lightning storm, but promptly went back outside once the lightning stopped. So you know the winds must have been bad on Tuesday.


They were just as bad yesterday. According to a South Bend meteorologist, Wednesday's winds were at their strongest at right before 5:00 pm, with sustained winds around 40 mph and gusts of 53 mph. That peak gust coincides with the time Declan Sullivan's tower fell.

The tower should not have been up in the first place, regardless of whether practice should have been outdoors. The most common warning on scissor lifts is about using them in high winds. The South Bend Tribune spoke to one manufacturer who says they shouldn't be raised if winds exceed 25 mph. Yesterday, they were twice that.

The people who make the lifts knew Sullivan shouldn't have been up there, and so did Sullivan. The most heartbreaking aspect of the story is the content of Sullivan's two Tweets that afternoon.


Less than an hour after his second Tweet, the lift blew over. Stationed beyond the uprights, it crashed through the chain link fence on the edge of the field and crashed into the street. Sullivan was taken to the hospital, and died there. Practice continued for 25 more minutes.

Weathermen, heavy equipment manufacturers and the victim himself knew this was a recipe for disaster. Who else should have known? The person or persons who sent him up there anyway? An investigation led by campus police aims to figure that out. OSHA is also involved.


A Mass of Remembrance will be held tonight at Notre Dame Basilica. The school hasn't decided if football practice will resume as scheduled this afternoon.

UPDATE: The team did practice today.