ATLANTA (AP) — On the upper deck concourse at Turner Field, curious fans stood next to a railing overlooking a parking lot, wondering how a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan could have fallen to his death.
While it’s not clear why he fell, police said Ronald Lee Homer Jr.’s death Monday night appeared accidental and didn’t involve foul play. At least four witnesses told police no one else was near him.
Standing next to the 42-inch high railing before Tuesday night’s game, Braves fan Larry Bowman said he felt safe.
“I can’t figure out what would have happened,” said Bowman, of Fairdale, W.Va. “It’s almost chest high. You would have to … well, I don’t know.”
Homer, 30, knew the stadium well. He attended three or four games a month. At 6-foot-6, the railing would have come up to his midsection.
He was by the railing at a fourth-level smoking area, waiting out a rain delay. He’d told his mother on the phone he was about to head to his seat for the game against the Philadelphia Phillies and shortly afterward, he fell about 85 feet onto 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.
A police report said Homer was unconscious and wasn’t breathing when paramedics arrived. Toxicology tests were pending, but the medical examiner says 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.
Before Tuesday night’s game between the Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field, players and fans bowed their heads and observed a moment of silence as a picture of Homer was shown on the video board above center field.
“I don’t know what happened but you’ve got to feel for the family,” Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez said. “You don’t expect these things when you come to a baseball game or a sporting event.”
Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said the fall put things in perspective.
“We’re just playing a game, really,” he said. “That’s real-life stuff there, you know? Our hearts go out to the family and the friends of the victim and we’re with them.”
Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall declined to discuss the circumstances of the death or whether the team was planning safety changes.
Homer’s father, Ronald, said the family was 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.”
The fall was the second fatal one by a fan at Turner Field. In May 2008, a 25-year-old Georgia man was died after falling down a stairwell, and two other people fell in the past year at the Georgia Dome, the city’s pro football stadium. One was fatal; the other was not.
Homer’s father said Turner Field 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.”
Associated Press Writers Johnny Clark and Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.