120 Injured After Bleachers Collapse During Bullfight

Times Staff Writer

Up to 120 spectators were injured when the bleachers of a makeshift stadium collapsed “like a row of dominoes” Sunday afternoon in the middle of a bullfight in Tecate, Mexico.

The accident, coming at the end of the small border town’s two-day festival and annual “running of the bulls,” occurred at about 5:30 p.m. just as Matadora Raquel Martinez of San Diego and the bull she was to fight had entered the ring.

“All of a sudden I heard the rumble and I knew what it meant,” Martinez said in a telephone interview from a motel room in Tecate, where she was still trying to locate friends and relatives. “This is the third ring I’ve been in that has fallen.”

The arena, which consisted of a circle of portable wood and metal bleachers surrounded by a permanent wall, began without warning to shift sideways on its eastern side, witnesses said. Within seconds, the entire ring, weighted down with as many as 3,000 spectators and revelers, had collapsed.

15 to 20 Hurt Seriously

People on the upper and lower levels of the approximately seven-row structure managed to jump free of the wreckage. But some of those sitting in the middle became tangled in the wooden slats, and witnesses said many suffered broken arms and legs and bruises.


Medics, police officers and citizens tended to the injured--estimated at as many as 120 by Tecate Fire Chief Luis Villavicencio. He said 15 to 20 were seriously hurt and taken to the General Hospital of Tijuana. Another 100 were treated at the Red Cross clinic and Centro Medico in Tecate, he said.

San Diego-area hospitals reported that 16 Mexicans and Americans had arrived by car or ambulance by 9 p.m. Sunday, primarily with neck, back and leg injuries and broken bones. Helicopters carrying doctors and nurses and eight ambulances were sent from San Diego County to Tecate. It was unclear Sunday night how they had been used.

“The first thing I saw was Raquel running toward us. . . ,” recalled Bill Howell, a San Diego police officer who had accompanied Martinez’s husband, police official Bill Robinson, to the fight. “And right behind her was the bull getting ready to charge.”

Bobbie Wheat, another police officer who had accompanied Robinson, said she shredded her shirt to make bandages for people who had been cut, loaded the injured on stretchers fashioned from boards from the bleachers and helped make wooden splints for people with broken bones.

Almost immediately after the structure collapsed people began walking out of the ring in a surprisingly orderly fashion, stepping over the flattened seats, Howell and others said. Then police and medics began helping the injured out, and ambulances and cars began lining up. Within 30 minutes, the arena was emptied, Howell said.

But Villavicencio said the injuries occurred only because people panicked.

However, witnesses said the spectators appeared calm under the circumstances. They said some appeared to have been partially crushed in the collapse. Others suffered back injuries when they suddenly dropped 10 to 20 feet.

Earlier Sunday, several men, who witnesses said appeared to be drunk, were tossed and gored by bulls when half a dozen bulls ran down the main street of Tecate in a narrow alley framed by a high steel fence.

And during bullfights Saturday, a fight broke out in the stands, police fired shots into the air and as many as a dozen people were arrested, Robinson said.

The arena, called Miguel Calete Stadium and located on a main thoroughfare in the community of 60,000, is used for bullfights and rodeos, Mexican authorities said. As late as Saturday, workers were seen welding and painting in preparation for the weekend fights.

Miguel Cervantes and Times staff writer Kathleen H. Cooley contributed to this story.