Wheelchair-Using Fan Hospitalized After 10-Foot Fall at Arena During WNBA Exhibition

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A fan who uses a wheelchair was hospitalized this weekend after falling over a railing at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C., during the Las Vegas Aces WNBA preseason game Saturday versus the Puerto Rican National Team.

As reported by The State, Jonathan Cotten wrote in a social media post that his 27-year-old daughter Kayla fell 10 feet from her seat onto concrete and offered suggestions for how he said arena staff could’ve handled the situation differently. Kayla wrote in a separate post that she was moved to ADA seating in the rafters and away from the seats she paid for “cuz no place wants to be accessible.”

The 18,000-seat arena is primarily the home of University of South Carolina men's and women's basketball.

USC spokesperson Jeff Stensland said in a statement to The State,  “We value the safety of our guests at all events in our venues and our staff takes precautions and prepares for a safe experience for visitors attending events at our facilities.”

Dawn Staley, who coached the USC women's team to the NCAA national championship (its second in three seasons), replied to the elder Cotten’s post Monday morning: “Good am @JonEasystep! We r deeply sorry to the highest level this happened to sweet Kay,” Staley wrote. “U r completely rt & we must do better. Our #1 priority is that every1 feels safe when they come to @CLAmktg. U hv given us in gr8 detail what should have taken place. I’ll take it 2 top” with a prayer hand emoji, according to Payton Titus of The State.

Kayla was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at the age of 15, her father told The State. The condition affects the function of the mitochondria in one’s cells. For Kayla, this has caused gastroparesis, or “stomach paralysis.” She spends most of her time in bed, Cotten said, and uses a wheelchair because walking expends a lot of her energy.

According to Titus' report, Cotten said Kayla called him once she and her friend arrived at the arena Saturday and were moved from Section 221 (in the upper bowl), where she had originally purchased seats, to “the highest point in the arena” due to a lack of available ADA seats. He said he called and spoke to an arena supervisor and was told an attendant in Kayla’s area would help move her and her friend down to Section 100 “because we have available seats there.”

Saturday’s official attendance count was 13,507, Titus reported.

Per The State report:

No move happened, however, and there was no arena attendant near Kayla, Cotten said. He had not heard from anyone associated with the university other than Staley as of late Monday afternoon. At one point during the game Kayla got up got up from her wheelchair — probably leaning in to get a better glimpse of the on-court action, Cotten said — lost her balance and then fell over a railing. He called back after the incident and said he was directed to staffing and security manager Connor Usher. Cotten left a voicemail with Usher. Kayla was taken to Prisma Health Richland Hospital in an ambulance, Cotten said. The doctors were surprised Kayla survived the fall with bruises and no major injuries, the father said. However, the incident did trigger a seizure. As of Monday evening, Kayla had not been able to get up and walk around yet, he said.

Kayla traveled from Richmond, Virginia to Columbia for the WNBA preseason game. She is an avid basketball fan, having attended college games at the University of Tennessee and the University of Connecticut as well as WNBA games for the Washington Mystics and the Dallas Wings. She was a manager for the women’s basketball team at the University of Lynchburg before withdrawing from school after her sophomore year. Kayla posted on X at 10:57 p.m. Saturday explaining that: “by God’s grace, no internal bleeding, broken bones, or permanent damage. After spending over an hour in the trauma bay having seizures, they declared me stable. Still grieving having my @HollywoodRaven jersey cut into pieces tho,” with a crying emoji and two broken heart emojis. Cotten wrote that USC’s Raven Johnson messaged Kayla to replace the jersey the hospital had to cut off her.

Cotten also offered four suggestions in his X post for how Colonial Life Arena could have handled Kayla’s situation better or prevented it from happening in the first place: “1) When customers have disabilities, listen to their concerns, especially when they call and email you. “2) Have attendants in the ADA section. You never know, the customer might need something.

“3) Retrofit the railings so people can’t risk injury or death when they lose their balance. MLB has nets for foul balls for the same reason. “4) If an injury does occur, focus on getting medical treatment. Don’t subject their friends and loved ones to a debrief session to try to assess your liability.” Kayla also offered a suggestion in a social media post:

“I hope to come back next fall but @CLAmktg please treat those with disabilities with consideration & make sure they can get to the seats they bought,” Kayla wrote on X. She also asked them to consider raising the railing height. Staley responded to Kayla’s original post Monday morning: “Huge s/o to @kiajohn24 (Shekia Johnson, Raven’s mom) for calling me this morning to let me this happened to you Kayla,” Staley wrote in an X post. “We are deeply sorry. Heartbroken knowing you suffered at one of the places you enjoy the most . God has you covered and so do we in prayer for your complete recovery,” with two prayer hand emojis and two heart emojis.

Cotten thanked Staley for her response: “Thank you so much @dawnstaley! Leaders reveal their character in quiet ways and with care for people who have no significant influence. God bless you!” Cotten told The State that the point of his and Kayla’s viral social media posts was to speak up for people with disabilities. “What about the people who don’t have connections?” Cotten said. “What about the people who have difficulty communicating? What about the people who don’t have the confidence to speak up for themselves? ... Just to be seen, to be heard, to be to be treated as fully human, as fully valuable. Those are basic tenets. And those the things the ADA laws are supposed to support. It’s just a gap. And that’s all we’re saying. Close the gap.”

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