Death of Brittanie Cecil
Brittanie Nichole Cecil (March 20, 1988 – March 18, 2002) was a hockey fan who died from injuries suffered when a puck was deflected into the stands and struck her in the left temple at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, on March 16, 2002. It was the first and currently only fan fatality in the NHL's 85-year history. Because of Brittanie's death, the league implemented mandatory netting at either end of the rink in every stadium at the beginning of the next NHL season in 2002–03 to protect spectators from errant pucks.
A native of West Alexandria, Ohio, a rural community near Dayton, Brittanie was an avid sports fan, soccer player, competing in a state tournament with her team, the Orange Crush, at eleven years old. Upon qualifying for the state tournament, mayor Carol Lunsford declared the day Orange Crush Day. Brittanie attended Twin Valley South Middle School as a cheerleader, student council member and an honor student. She went to Thompson secondary school.
Brittanie had been watching the Columbus Blue Jackets play the Calgary Flames on March 16, 2002, on tickets received as an early gift from her father for her 14th birthday. With 12:10 remaining in the second period and the Blue Jackets up 1-0, a shot by the Blue Jackets' Espen Knutsen was deflected by the Flames' Derek Morris and went over the glass behind the net, striking her in the left temple. Play carried on as the players were unaware of having inadvertently caused any serious injury. The Blue Jackets, who were already eliminated from playoff contention, would go on to win the game 3-1. In fact, although Brittanie had suffered a skull fracture, she walked to a first-aid station before being taken to Columbus Children's Hospital in an ambulance with her only visible injury being a gash on her forehead. At the hospital, she suffered an initial seizure and was admitted, but the next day she appeared to be recovering, both communicative and ambulatory, and without complaints of pain or dizziness. A CT-scan, however, had failed to catch a torn vertebral artery, resulting in severe clotting and swelling of the brain. On March 18, she developed a high fever and lost consciousness. She died nearly 48 hours after being struck, at 5:15 p.m. on March 18, 2002, two days before her 14th birthday.
Brittanie's funeral was held at Preble Memory Gardens Chapel near West Alexandria, after which a procession of more than 150 cars followed the hearse to Fairview Cemetery, where she was buried. Attending the funeral was Blue Jackets general manager Dave King, who spoke on behalf of the team.
The Thursday after the incident, a moment of silence was observed for Brittanie at the next Blue Jackets home game, played against the Detroit Red Wings. Her initials "BNC" were worn by the team's players on their helmets for the remainder of the season.
Knutsen and Morris, the two players who combined for the fatal slapshot, expressed remorse following Brittanie's death. Morris, who deflected the puck, explained, "You try to say, 'It happens all the time,' but you can't. I don't know how many times pucks get deflected over the glass, but it doesn't make it any better. You can always say, 'It's not my fault,' but you always feel like it is, a little." Knutsen, who was given the option of sitting out the next game by Blue Jackets coach Dave King but chose to play, told reporters, "I think about it all the time. It was a terrible accident, and I cannot get it off my mind."
The NHL implemented mandatory safety netting above the glass behind and to the sides of both ends of the rink in all arenas. The netting has also been implemented by other organizations in many arenas world-wide. A lawsuit brought by Brittanie's family against the NHL and the arena was settled out of court for $1.2 million in April 2004. The Brittanie Nichole Cecil Memorial Scholarship Fund has since been created, which collects donations at every Blue Jackets home game.
- "Death of a fan". Sports Illustrated. April 1, 2002. Retrieved March 25, 2009.
- "How she died". Sports Illustrated. April 1, 2002. Retrieved March 29, 2009.
- "A day for easing old hurts". The Columbus Dispatch. December 18, 2010. Retrieved December 18, 2010.
- Dibenedetto, Nicolino (March 18, 2012). "Blue Jackets-Flames Preview". Yahoo Sports Canada. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
- "Parents of girl killed by puck receive $1.2 million". USA Today. April 14, 2004.
- The Associated Press (June 9, 2015). "Manfred: MLB to re-evaluate fan safety after Fenway accident". The Score. Retrieved June 9, 2015.
- "The Brittanie Nichole Cecil Memorial Scholarship Fund". The Brittanie Nichole Cecil Memorial Scholarship Fund. Retrieved June 9, 2015.
- Brittanie Nichole Cecil Memorial Scholarship Fund
- Columbus Dispatch interview with her family and with Espen Knutsen, published March 21, 2010
- Brittanie Cecil at Find a Grave