In fans' memories, tragedies echo among the cheers

July 28, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

It was Safety Patrol Day, and 20,000 kids got in free at Memorial Stadium to celebrate a year of helping their classmates make it to and from school without anything bad happening to them.

But before the Orioles took the field against the Cleveland Indians, one child was dead, a dozen or more were seriously injured and 46 others were hurt.

The Memorial Stadium escalator accident of May 2, 1964, turned a day of fun for schoolchildren from around the state into an afternoon of terror and mangled bodies.

It started during the national anthem, but with all the noise inside the stadium, almost no one in the stands heard the cries or knew what was going on between the lower and upper decks along the third base side.

Said one witness the day of the accident, "It looked like someone had gone through here with a hatchet."

The hatchet was 48 feet of sharp metal stair treads measuring 40 inches wide, 16 inches deep and moving at 120 feet per minute, the instrument of the worst accident in the history of Memorial Stadium.

Excited and eager to get to their free seats, hundreds of young people were getting on three and four at a time at the bottom of the escalator only to find out that the top of the stairs was blocked by a narrow metal gate that allowed only one person to get off at a time.

Kids began falling back on top of one another in a crush of bodies pinned down and cut as the escalator kept running until someone finally found the shut-off switch.

In the 37 years that major league ball has been played at the Waverly stadium dedicated to American war dead from the two world wars, the escalator accident was one of only a handful of awful events that have interrupted the fun and sports there.

What would have been the greatest tragedy by far almost occurred in December 1976, when a local bus driver named Donald N. Kroner flew his small plane into the upper deck just moments after thousands of fans filed out from a Colts game against Pittsburgh.

Kroner, who was convicted of reckless flying, later explained the crash by saying he just wanted to catch a little bit of the game. He came out of the accident with cuts and bruises.

Others have not been so fortunate. In 1986, a city policeman named Richard Miller was directing traffic outside before a game when he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver drugged on PCP; and in 1988, a 17-year-old named Edgar Davis was shot outside of the annual City-Poly Thanksgiving Day football classic.

Another took his own life. Before an Oriole game against Kansas City in 1969, a young man jumped to his death from the retaining wall that rings the crest of the stadium. His body barely missed hitting a woman and her young son on the ground who were spooked out of the way by the man's falling shoes.

Lives have been saved as well. In 1978 a fan suffered a heart attack in the stands and was saved by physician-pitcher Doc Medich of the visiting Texas Rangers, prompting the entire Texas team to sign up for lessons in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Still, with the Orioles and their millions of fans due to move to their new ballpark at Camden Yards at the end of this season, chances are that the great escalator accident of 1964 will be remembered by people like Marty McMahon as the worst.

Mr. McMahon, chief of a Baltimore ambulance crew at the time, was doing some springtime painting at his east side row house on Curley Street when the emergency call came in about 1:15 p.m. He rushed to the stadium still dressed in his old painting clothes.

"There was a pileup of kids, and the escalator kept moving," he recalled. "The edges of the steps are like claws in an animal and no one shut the escalator off and kids kept piling up as the steps scratched and mutilated and cut these youngsters open."

Killed was 14-year-old Annette S. Costantini, an eighth-grader at St. Dominic's School in Northeast Baltimore whose body was found crumpled near the top of the escalator once the bodies were cleared. Several other students from the Roman Catholic school in Hamilton were hurt in the accident.

Judy Seluzicki, now Dr. Judith Britz, was one of them.

"It was going to be a fun time at the stadium, a class picnic," said Dr. Britz, director of research and development for a health care company in Rockville. "I was with an excited group of kids, and we were going onto the escalator, and I heard screaming ahead of me, and in a few minutes I was at the bottom of a pile of people, and I thought I was going to be suffocated. I thought I was going to die. In a few minutes the escalator stopped, and adults were pulling kids off the pile. I looked down at my left ankle, and I could see bones."

It wasn't until Tommy Zamenski, at the game with Sacred Heart of Mary School in Dundalk, saw the looks on the faces of children around him that he realized he was hurt.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.