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Coroner's report

Puck snapped girl's head back, damaging artery

Posted: Wednesday March 20, 2002 2:28 PM

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The 13-year-old girl hit by a puck at an NHL game died from a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back, a coroner said Wednesday.

Brittanie Cecil died Monday, two days after she was struck in the forehead by the puck at a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.

The damage to the artery, which runs from the spine to the back of the brain, led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain, said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis, who performed the autopsy. He said the artery also might have been slightly torn.

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* CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains how head trauma from a stray hockey puck caused Brittanie Cecil's death. Start

* Doug MacLean, the Blue Jackets GM, can't imagine what the parents of Brittanie Cecil are going through.
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"The puck struck her in the forehead, causing a skull fracture and some bruising of the brain in the area," Lewis said. "But that wasn't what led to her death. It was the snapping back of the head and the damage to that artery."

Lewis said he consulted with other pathologists on the rarity of the injury. He said that a fellow pathologist had not encountered a similar injury and death in more than 25 years as a doctor.

The eighth-grader at Twin Valley South Middle School near Dayton had been at Children's Hospital in Columbus since being hurt and died there late Monday afternoon. She remained conscious until Monday morning, Lewis said.

She was sitting about 15 rows above the ice and behind the goal when the puck, 6 ounces of hard, frozen rubber, came flying into the stands after Columbus center Espen Knutsen's slap shot. The puck, which can travel over 100 mph on slap shots, appeared to be deflected and hit two other fans sitting near Brittanie.

Blue Jackets to honor teen killed by puck

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Columbus Blue Jackets will place Brittanie Cecil's initials on their helmets in memory of the 13-year-old girl killed by a deflected puck.

Brittanie died Monday, two days after she was struck in the head by a shot that sailed into the stands during the Blue Jackets' home game against Calgary.

NHL spokesman Frank Brown said there will be a moment of silence before Thursday night's game at Nationwide Arena against the Detroit, the Blue Jackets' first home game since the death.

The franchise also will create a fund in her memory.

Knutsen distraught about young fan's death

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The hockey player whose deflected shot led to the death of a 13-year-old girl was distraught as his team returned to action Wednesday night.

"I think about it all the time," Espen Knutsen told reporters after a morning workout before the Columbus Blue Jackets' game against Minnesota. "I think about her family because I have family myself. It was just a horrible accident."

Columbus coach Dave King said all of the Blue Jackets are struggling with Brittanie Cecil's death, but that Knutsen, from Norway, was taking it especially hard.

"He's really upset about the whole thing," King said. "He was in the act of shooting the puck and it got deflected over the glass. That kind of thing happens. But, he's really distressed by it."

Brittanie was hit in the head by the deflected shot early in the second period of Columbus's home game against Calgary on Saturday.

"We all saw the incident on the ice," King said. "Most of the time you assume they'll be OK."

Brittanie was taken to Children's Hospital, where she died Monday from a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back, a coroner said Wednesday. The damage to the artery, which runs from the spine to the back of the brain, led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain, said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis, who performed the autopsy. He said the artery also might have been slightly torn.

Wednesday would have been Brittanie's 14th birthday.

The Blue Jackets beat the Wild 3-1 on Wednesday night in their first game since the death.

"It's always nice to win, but that tragedy that happened the other night is a lot more important than what happened here," forward Ray Whitney said. "I don't think it's something you just put out of your mind."

The Wild held a moment of silence in the girl's memory before the game, and Columbus will do the same Thursday night against Detroit. The Blue Jackets also placed Brittanie's initials on their helmets.

"It was great to have that moment of silence," King said. "I really thank the organization here for doing that -- it was certainly a classy thing to do."

Hockey death raises questions about safety, liability

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The NHL is looking at arena safety following the death of a 13-year-old girl who was hit in the forehead by a puck that flew into the stands.

Brittanie Cecil died two days after a deflected slap shot struck her at a Columbus Blue Jackets game, raising questions about the responsibilities of teams and arenas to protect fans. It was the first such fatality in league history.

NHL spokesman Frank Brown said Wednesday the league would 'look at everything' to ensure fan safety, although he did not provide details.

"We believe our buildings are safe and history overwhelmingly has proven us right," he said. "We have entertained hundreds of millions of spectators over our 85 seasons and we are devastated that this tragic accident took place."

The Blue Jackets plan to wear the girl's initials on their helmets for the rest of the season, he said.

The Blue Jackets plan to wear the girl's initials on their helmets for the rest of the season, and will hold a moment of silence before Thursday night's game against the Detroit, the Blue Jackets' first at home since the death. The team also will promote a memorial fund set up by Brittanie's family.

Her parents released a statement, signed "The Family of Brittanie Cecil," on Wednesday night:

"During our time of grief and bereavement our family is trying to make some sense of this tragedy. Our loss is overwhelming and the pain the we are enduring is unbearable.

"Brittanie was a sweet, beautiful and loving young girl, who brought joy to all her family, friends and acquaintances. We all loved her very much and will miss her dearly. We know she is with God now and we will celebrate her life and memory forever."

Meanwhile, a coroner determined Wednesday that Brittanie died from a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back.

The damage to the artery, which runs from the spine to the back of the brain, led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain, said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis, who performed the autopsy.

"The puck struck her in the forehead, causing a skull fracture and some bruising of the brain in the area," Lewis said. "But that wasn't what led to her death. It was the snapping back of the head and the damage to that artery."

Lewis said he consulted with other pathologists on the rarity of the injury. He said that a fellow pathologist had not encountered a similar injury and death in more than 25 years as a doctor.

The eighth-grader at Twin Valley South Middle School near Dayton had been at Children's Hospital in Columbus since being hurt Saturday night and died there late Monday afternoon. She remained conscious until Monday morning, Lewis said.

Brittanie, who would have turned 14 on Wednesday, was sitting about 15 rows above the ice at Nationwide Arena and behind the goal when the puck, 6 ounces of hard, frozen rubber, came flying into the stands.

The puck, which can travel over 100 mph, was shot by Columbus center Espen Knutsen and caromed off Calgary defenseman Derek Morris' stick. The puck also hurt two other fans after hitting the teenager.

Break-resistant glass sheets that surround the rinks at all NHL arenas are 8 feet high and the height of the boards can range from 40-48 inches. Still, pucks often fly into the stands, causing injuries.

Brown said the league does not log injury reports on fans and that figures on the numbers of fans treated at hospitals was "maintained internally."

America West Arena in Phoenix is the only NHL venue with netting that protects spectators besides the glass. The netting is necessary because of an overhang in a balcony.

Fans are warned about the dangers at games by a disclaimer on the back of each ticket that says, "Pucks flying into spectator areas can cause serious injury. Be alert." But alertness can provide only so much safety on pucks.

Two years ago, Chad Hildebrand was at a senior men's hockey league game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when a puck flew into the crowd and glanced off a friend's head before hitting him in the temple.

The 21-year-old Hildebrand went home, collapsed and fell into a coma. After a week, he was taken off life support and died.

His father, Nick, does not believe it was just bad fortune that his son was in the path of the errant shot. The family sued, but the case has not been resolved.

"A freak accident is a meteor falling out of the skies and striking you. I call this a preventable accident," he said.

Many lawyers say the disclaimers on the backs of tickets don't absolve teams or venues.

"Ninety-nine times out of 100 here in Canada, it doesn't matter whether or not there's a disclaimer on the ticket," said Marcel Jodoin, an attorney from suburban Winnipeg who represents Nick Hildebrand. "Because you don't get the ticket until after you've paid. The courts up here have said you can't impose new terms into a contract after the contract's been made."

Jim Elliott, a Michigan attorney who has represented fans injured at games, said it won't be long before teams realize that it's cheaper to put up nets and higher break-resistant glass to protect fans.

"I said a couple of years back that in 10 years it's going to be different," Elliott said. "The sporting venues are going to be different. It's unfortunate that people have to lose their eyesight or lose their life."


 
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