Memorials, Safety Measures in Year Since ND Lift Tragedy

Paul Steinbach Headshot

A five mile-per-hour wind blows in South Bend, Ind., this morning. A year ago today, gusts 10 times as strong toppled a scissor lift holding University of Notre Dame student videographer Declan Sullivan, and effects of Sullivan's death are still being felt.

On Saturday, the university dedicated a memorial to Sullivan outside its football headquarters, the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. Yesterday, Notre Dame announced the establishment of the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund, establishing a scholarship supported in part by money personally solicited by the university's president. Tonight, a private mass will be held on campus for students currently living in Sullivan's former residence hall, as well as those living in a separate hall with one of his surviving siblings.

The anniversary has also revived criticism of the decision last Oct. 27 to put Sullivan in the lift to begin with. When confronted this week with questions about the incident, Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly said, "Blame is not a word that we feel is appropriate. We never thought in those terms. We thought in terms of loss and making sure something like this never happens again."

It was a response that prompted Neil Hayes to write in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times, "If Kelly doesn't have moments of regret or times late at night when he stares at the ceiling second-guessing himself, he's not human. If he's so obsessed with the Irish not losing to Navy for the fourth time in five years on Saturday to reflect on a senseless loss of life, he's missing the only positive that can come from a tragedy that should have and could have been prevented."

Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Sullivan tragedy is the preventive measures it has spawned. Notre Dame banned hydraulic lift use in March, and several other schools have taken proactive steps to ensure, in Kelly's words, "something like this never happens again." The University of Florida installed permanent towers earlier this year, and Arkansas State University replaced a tower that relied on wooden telephone poles with one made of steel, as reported by the Associated Press.

Throughout the peripheral second-guessing, finger-pointing and legal settlements of the past 12 months, the Sullivan family has remained appreciative of Notre Dame's healing efforts, including its latest. "We are grateful to the university for helping to keep Declan's memory alive in this way," said Declan's father, Barry Sullivan, in an announcement posted on Notre Dame's website. "We are pleased that he will be remembered through a scholarship that will provide others with the educational opportunities he enjoyed at Notre Dame."

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