Man falls to his death at Houston Texans' game; fourth fan fatality in four years

Another year has brought another harrowing story of a sports fan falling to his death.

On Thursday night in Houston, a man identified as 25-year-old Jonathan Kelly fell to his death after witnesses said he was sliding down the outside rail of an escalator at the Houston Texans' exhibition game against the Minnesota Vikings.

The incident, first reported by CBS Houston, took place after 8 p.m. local time, when Kelly fell three stories and landed on the pavement below. The incident reportedly happened during the third quarter of the Texans-Vikings game. Another fan on the scene told the Houston Chronicle he "heard the very loud noise when he hit the ground." Kelly was taken to the hospital, where he died. Alcohol may have been involved, according to CBS Houston.

This is the ninth escalator incident in the last 10 years, according to the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents, three of which were caused by individuals trying to sit or slide down railings. Alcohol was only reported to be a factor in one of these incidents. For context, there have been eight falls linked to fans reaching over railings for balls.

A witness named Randall Wisdom told KHOU he and his 18-year-old daughter were on the escalator below when they saw Kelly hit the ground. "My daughter is devastated," he said. "She's never experienced something like that."

According to Alana Penza of the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents, there have been "a good number of incidents" of fans falling over the past 10 years.

The most well-known also happened in Texas, last year at a Rangers game when firefighter Shannon Stone fell over a rail trying to catch a ball tossed to him by outfielder Josh Hamilton. There is now a statue of Stone at the Ballpark in Arlington, and railings there have been raised.

But the tragedy Thursday in Houston is of a different nature, involving an escalator away from the field of play. It is the fourth incident in the last four years in which a fan has died after trying to slide down a railing. The others occurred last year at the Colorado Rockies' Coors Field, and in 2008 at Shea Stadium, former home to the New York Mets, and Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves play.

"There were a number of cases where a fan fell because of his own actions," says Penza. "You have to try to find a way to stop people from sliding down the railings."

Is that the responsibility of the facility? Of the team? Of those serving alcohol at games? It's very hard to argue that point, since millions of fans use staircases and escalators properly. It's hard to legislate against fan misbehavior.

Still, teams and leagues want to provide a safe environment, and pedestrian traffic is often busy beneath escalators and ramps. That can pose a hazard. In 2009, there were two fan falls at Busch Stadium. There were no fatalities, but one of the fans fell 18 feet from a party porch and landed on a woman below.

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