Erie County sheriff’s investigators are considering two possible misdemeanor charges – third-degree assault and reckless endangerment – against the man who fell from the upper deck in Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, sources said late Monday.
Both the falling man, who tumbled some 20 to 25 feet from the 300 to the 200 level, and the man he fell on were taken to the hospital but released early Sunday night, authorities added.
The fan who fell has been identified as Robert Hopkins, 28, of Grand Island.
The incident apparently has cost Hopkins his job as a digital art director with Eric Mower and Associates.
The advertising and public relations agency today issued a statement that read:
“Eric Mower and Associates is very concerned about Sunday’s incident and we were relieved that the injured were released from the hospital. Rob Hopkins is no longer employed by EMA.”
The agency would not elaborate.
One source close to the investigation of the stadium incident said, “We don’t think it was intentional. It was reckless what he did.”
Third-degree assault can be charged when a person acts recklessly and causes physical injury to another person. Reckless endangerment is defined as creating a substantial risk of serious physical injury to someone else. Neither charge requires a finding of intent.
Video footage that has gone viral on several websites shows the man in the 300 level sliding down a steel handrail above a cement wall that serves as the side edge of the 300 level, at the scoreboard end of the Bills’ side of the stadium. The man then tumbled off that handrail, falling onto a group of people below in the 200 level.
Both injured men were treated at the scene, then taken by ambulance to Erie County Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. They were released from ECMC at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The man who fell hurt his shoulder, while officials said the man he struck suffered a head and/or neck injury. Both men are believed to be from Western New York.
Many observers have speculated that the man sliding down the handrail must have been intoxicated, but authorities said they didn’t know if that is true. Unlike a drunken-driving case, a possible level of intoxication may not affect the charges lodged.
The Buffalo Bills on Monday confirmed that the fan who fell won’t be allowed back into the stadium, in a statement from team President and CEO Russ Brandon:
“The irresponsible behavior that occurred at yesterday’s game by the fan who fell from the upper deck is a violation of our Fan Code of Conduct and cannot, and will not, be tolerated. This individual will not be permitted back into Ralph Wilson Stadium. The vast majority of our fans who attend Bills home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium do so in a responsible manner and we continue to work diligently to eliminate those individuals who violate our Fan Code of Conduct from game days at our stadium. We are cooperating with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office during their investigation of this incident and we want to extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery to the fan who was injured in the 200 level.”
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz issued a similar statement, explaining why authorities are eager to file charges, if applicable:
“Yesterday’s reckless and dangerous incident at Ralph Wilson Stadium is an example of the type of behavior that gives Buffalo a bad reputation and that can never be tolerated, dismissed, or accepted. By his actions, this individual has shown that he is a danger to himself and others, and we fully support barring him from future events at the stadium ... Injurious and disruptive behavior will never be condoned or excused, but will be eliminated and prosecuted whenever and wherever possible.”
Authorities have not released the names of the two men or any other details of the incident, which occurred during the second quarter of the Bills’ 37-14 victory over the New York Jets.
The incident apparently was recorded by network television cameras covering the game. The video that has been posted on several websites shows the indistinct, shadowy figure of a man sliding on the railing, then tipping over the side.