ATLANTA – Lifetime Atlanta Braves fan Ronald Lee Homer Jr. knew the stadium where he fell to his death well. He attended three or four games a month at Turner Field and watched as many televised games as he could, his father said. He always had on a Braves hat.
On Monday night, Homer, 30, was waiting out a rain delay in a fourth-level smoking area with a 42-inch railing that would have come up to the 6-foot-6 fan’s midsection. He’d told his mother during a phone conversation that the rain was letting up and he was about to head to his seat for the game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Shortly afterward, he fell about 85 feet into a parking lot.
“He said ‘I love you mom, and I said ‘I love you too’ and that was it,” his mother, Connie Homer, told The Associated Press on Tuesday morning.
While it’s not clear exactly why he fell, police say the death around 8:30 appears to have been an accident and didn’t involve foul play. At least four witnesses told police that no one else was standing near him when he fell.
A police report released Tuesday says Homer was unconscious and wasn’t breathing when paramedics arrived. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Toxicology tests were pending, but the medical examiner says he died from injuries in the fall.
“This this is going to hurt us for the rest of our life,” his father, Ronald Homer, said. “When you lose a kid, not only your kid but your best friend, too, it’s bad.”
The frequency of such falls around the country raises the question of whether stadiums are safe enough. The International Building Code, which is the accepted industry standard, has a minimum height requirement of 42 inches for guard rails that act as protective barriers in open-sided areas such as walkways or smoking platforms. Railings in front of seated areas must be 26 inches.
Monday’s accident wasn’t the first fatal fall by a fan at Turner Field.
In May 2008, a 25-year-old Cumming, Ga., man suffered head injuries when he fell down a stairwell at Turner Field during a game between the Braves and the New York Mets and later died. Police found that alcohol was involved. The Braves have said the death was the first one at the park that didn’t involve a medical condition.
Turner Field became the Braves’ home in 1997.
Homer’s father said the stadium should have been designed to prevent such falls.
“I would like to see the building built to prevent something like this happening to another family,” he said. “It should have been better engineered.”