Teen-ager killed by puck

Eighth-grader from Ohio dies after errant slap shot

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Seconds after being hit by a puck as she watched an NHL game, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil held a jacket to her head to staunch the bleeding and walked to an exit.

Two days later she was dead, the first such fan fatality and one of the few at an American sports event, other than auto racing, directly related to action on the field.

An eighth grader at Twin Valley South Middle School near Dayton, Brittanie would have turned 14 on Wednesday. Her father had taken her to the game as an early present, friends said.

The girl was struck in the head by a shot early in the second period of Saturday night's game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus center Espen Knutsen's slap shot from the top of the left circle appeared to be deflected by a defenseman, with the puck flying over the high glass at the west end of the ice.

Larry Young of Winchester, sitting one row in front and two seats to Brittanie's left, believes the puck first struck Brittanie, then him before striking another child. He had a small cut on the back of his head.

Arena officials and medical personnel immediately approached Brittanie and helped her out of her seat -- some 15 rows above the ice -- and up the steps to the exit.

Hospital officials would not disclose the cause of her death Monday night and relatives declined comment. Her classmates were in mourning and the small town where she lived was overcome by the loss.

''I spoke to Brittanie's father this morning,'' Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean said, teary eyed and his voice choking. ''As a father of a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, I can't imagine the grief the family is experiencing.''

In a statement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, ''Our fans are our family, and this tragic accident fills us all with a deep sense of sorrow.''

Children's Hospital confirmed the girl had died but at the family's request did not provide additional information about how long she had been in the hospital or the nature of her injury. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday morning.

A brief news release issued by the hospital said the girl's parents had donated her organs ''in the hope that others will be blessed as much as they were by her life.''

Dr. James Kelly of the Chicago Neurological Institute said he could not offer an opinion on the cause of death based on the little he knew about the case.

''Delayed death is not unheard of from a head injury,'' Kelly said. ''But there are so many reasons that it could happen.''

The small farming town of almost 1,500 where Brittanie lived, West Alexandria, was in shock.

''Everybody knows everybody. The kids are very close in this town,'' said Stacy Habekost, who runs a beauty shop. She said the girl's aunt used to work at the salon and that Brittanie had her hair cut there.

''She's a pretty little girl,'' Habekost said.

An honor student and member of the school soccer team, Brittanie was remembered as a hard worker who also loved to shop. Her friends on the team chose to go ahead with a practice on a rainy day, kicking the ball around a field near the school.

''It's a miserable day,'' coach Bill Deleranko said. ''I figure that God's crying along with us.''

Teammate Kari Summers said many students were having a difficult time coping with the loss.

''It was just so much fun to be around her,'' she said. ''She was so happy all the time. You never saw her in a sad moment.''

Teams warn spectators over the public-address system about pucks flying into the crowd. They also place warnings on scoreboards and on the back of each ticket to try to minimize their liability.

Although rare, spectators have been killed and seriously injured at minor league hockey games. In the low minor leagues and the amateur ranks, the glass is not as high around the rink.

There have been three reported deaths -- two in Canada and one in Spokane, Wash. -- due to a fan being struck by a puck since 1979.

Baseball's Hall of Fame said its records showed at least five deaths of spectators struck by batted or thrown balls, including 14-year-old Alan Fish at a Los Angeles Dodgers' game in 1970.

No similar deaths were found in basketball or football.

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