Safety at Oriole Park

June 23, 1994

As an investigation continues into the malfunction last Saturday of a three-story escalator at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that resulted in injuries to more than 40 fans, the Baltimore Orioles organization has exhibited a split personality.

First, there has been considerable recent publicity about the hyperactivity of team owner Peter Angelos, who wants to do everything from repositioning the outfielders to tracking down the vendor who sold someone a warm beer.

Then come the escalator woes. The club's reaction is less cordial and more anxious. Often last year, the escalators at Oriole Park at Camden Yards that carry fans to the upper-deck were out of order. Then, at a May 17 game this season, a glitch in a club-level escalator caused riders to fall; one eyewitness said the mechanical stairs went into "free fall. . . like an amusement park ride."

That fan said he called the team, but wasn't satisfied the problem was getting priority. Officials of the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority, which operates the stadium, say various escalator woes are not related, that repairs were made over the winter and that the May 17 malfunction was investigated, as this latest accident will be.

One question is by whom. The tight-lipped escalator manufacturer, Montgomery Elevator Co. Inc. of Moline, Ill., the stadium authority and the Orioles have a conflict-of-interest in investigating the incident. The impartial observer on the scene, the state Department of Licensing and Regulation, seems to play a secondary, overly passive role.

In contrast to their reaction to other difficulties that have arisen in entertaining 45,000 people a night, the Orioles and stadium officials have been more guarded on this one. We haven't heard of offers of complimentary tickets to the people who had to miss Saturday's game, possibly because doing so might make the team appear liable.

The team and state should consider themselves fortunate. Thirty summers ago, a teen-age girl died in an escalator accident in what was Memorial Stadium's greatest tragedy. Last weekend's news pictures were frightening: fans being carried out on stretchers; mangled sneakers abandoned in the jaws of the collapsed steel steps. For what Oriole Park means to the state's reputation and economy, not to mention the financial success of Mr. Angelos' baseball franchise, the escalator problem must remain foremost in his busy mind.

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