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 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 said 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 said he died from injuries in the fall.
The frequency of such falls around the country – including two others in Atlanta in the past year –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.
The Braves played the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday at Turner Field, and the team planned to observe a moment of silence before the game.
“We are saddened by this tragic incident and will continue our investigation along with the Atlanta Police Department,” said Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall. She declined to discuss the circumstances of the death or whether the team was planning safety changes.
Connie Homer said her son followed the team through losing seasons as well as winning ones.
“It didn’t matter if they were winning, losing or what – he’s been a Braves fan forever,” she said.
His father, Ronald Homer, said the family is hurting.
“This is going to hurt us for the rest of our life,” he said. “When you lose a kid, not only your kid but your best friend, too, it’s bad.”
Homer grew up in Conyers, Ga., and graduated in 2001 from Rockdale High School, where he was involved in student government. He was single, had one sister and did landscape work for a living.
“He was big hearted, just a great guy, very respectful,” his mother said.
Connie Homer said she’s heard nothing from authorities as to what might have caused her son, who was a smoker, to fall.
“They called us up to the hospital and they told us he was gone,” she said. “The whole thing is surreal.”
Monday’s accident wasn’t the first fatal fall by a fan at Turner Field, and two other people fell from heights at the city’s pro football stadium in the past year.
Isaac Grubb, 20, of Lenoir City, Tenn., died after falling over a railing at the Georgia Dome during a football game between Tennessee and North Carolina State on Aug. 31, 2012. Authorities said he landed on another man seated in the lower level, and that alcohol was involved.
A man fell about 25 feet over a staircase railing at a Georgia Tech-Miami football game in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 22, 2012 and was not seriously injured.
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, a year after serving as the site of events for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
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 from the jump-street when they built that stadium.”
Associated Press Writers Johnny Clark and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.