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Notre Dame prez: We are at fault for student's death

Photo by JENNIFER SHEPHARD

Photo by JENNIFER SHEPHARD

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The president of the University of Notre Dame sent an e-mail to students, faculty, staff and alumni Friday saying that the school is responsible for a student videographer's death because it failed to protect him.

"Declan Sullivan was entrusted to our care, and we failed to keep him safe," the Rev. John Jenkins wrote. "We at Notre Dame and ultimately I, as President are responsible. Words cannot express our sorrow to the Sullivan family and to all involved."

Declan Sullivan, 20, a student videographer was killed Oct. 27 when a hydraulic lift he was on toppled over while he was filming football practice. The National Weather Service reported a gusts of up to 51 mph at the time. The school and state regulators are investigating the accident.

Jenkins also voiced support for football coach Brian Kelly, who has said it was his decision to hold practice outdoors on the day that Sullivan died.

"Coach Kelly was hired not only because of his football expertise, but because we believed his character and values accord with the highest standards of Notre Dame. All we have seen since he came to Notre Dame, and everything we have learned in our investigation to date, have confirmed that belief," he said. "For those reasons, I am confident that coach Kelly has a bright future leading our football program."

Kelly has had a difficult first season, going 4-5 so far with disappointing losses to Navy and Tulsa.

The state is looking at whether federal and state workplace safety rules and industry standards, including a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule barring workers from using scaffolds during storms or high winds, might have been violated. Authorities also planned to review whether Sullivan received training before using the scissor lift.

Marc Lotter, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development spokesman, said Friday he did not have a timetable for when the state investigation would be complete.

Jenkins also said the school's investigation is continuing and warned against prejudging its results.

"Investigations and external reviews such as this take time, but I assure you that, when complete, we will issue a public report on the outcome, including information on the events of the afternoon of Oct. 27, any institutional ramifications, and recommendations for safety policies in the future," he wrote.

He also said Notre Dame has hired Peter Likins, the former president of the University of Arizona, to provide an independent review of its investigation. Jenkins called Likins a "world-renowned" engineer.

A funeral service for Sullivan, a junior film student from the Chicago suburb of Long Grove, Ill., was held Monday at the St. Mary Catholic Church in Buffalo Grove, Ill. The school held a memorial Mass for Sullivan the day after he died.

Jenkins said the loss of any student is always a cause for great sadness, but said Sullivan's loss was especially hard.

"This loss is more devastating, for Declan died in a tragic accident while in our care," he wrote. "For that, I am profoundly sorry."

Sullivan's uncle, Mike Miley, who has been serving as family spokesman, said the family didn't have any comment, saying it wanted to stay out of the way as the investigation continues.

Notre Dame (4-5) does not play today. Its next game is Nov. 13 against No. 6 Utah (8-0).