Beware: Tragedies Can Drop From the Skies Over Anaheim
Scott Clinedinst’s friends call him Bart, after Bart Simpson. There are similarities: They both like to have fun; they’re always cracking jokes. Both relish being a kid.
Scott is into motorcycles--dirt bikes to be exact. He lives in Corona with his brother and sister, mom and dad. Lake Matthews is nearby. That’s where Scott and his best friend, Jared, like to take the hills. They spin out, get really dirty and have a blast.
One day, Scott and Jared say, they’ll form a company, J & S Racing. It’ll be big time.
Now let’s put this dream on hold and go back, to Saturday night, Jan. 26. The Camel Supercross is at Anaheim Stadium, and Scott is there too.
Scott has been to these things before. They’re always pretty rowdy, lots of people drinking, looking as if they’re having a good time. This night it’s the same. Scott, 14 years old, is the youngest in a group of eight friends.
“So I’m just sitting there, with my legs on the back of the seat in front of me, like this,” Scott says, showing me exactly what he means.
“It was the last lap of the last race, only I didn’t know that then. Then all of a sudden, I came down and hit my knee with my chin. Then I see a guy’s head right by mine, and his feet were back there.”
Scott points behind him.
“I pulled up and I screamed,” he goes on. “I was holding my neck. I couldn’t feel my body. I remember I looked down and my hands were moving by themselves and flapping up and down, hitting my legs.”
The guy whose head Scott saw had just landed on top him, tumbling from a stadium seat above. Witnesses say he was drunk.
The man broke Scott’s neck.
“We go to our baseball games and we have a few beers,” says Doreen Nowak, Scott’s mom. “But if it means that Anaheim Stadium no longer sells liquor to prevent this from happening to someone else, I’m all for it. If a smaller child had been sitting where Scott was, he could have been killed.”
What happened to Scott, many will say, was just one of those things, an accident where somebody got hurt; accidental tragedies happen everyday. And Scott Clinedinst at least survived, with lots of pain and three months of wearing a metal apparatus that literally screwed into his head to help hold his neck in place.
They call this thing a halo, but it looks like a device thought up by the devil himself.
Today Scott has four scars on his forehead that show where the halo was screwed in. He is supposed to take it easy; no riding his bike. More than six months after the injury, he looks to be fine.
Drinking at Anaheim Stadium, moreover, is not against the law. Beer, wine and hard liquor, too, were on sale the night of Jan. 26. Business appeared to be brisk. It was a night just like the rest.
And the Anaheim Police Department never even questioned the man who fell from his seat and on to the back of Scott’s neck. By the time an officer arrived on the scene, after medical aid had arrived, the man had picked himself up and left.
Police say they have no plans, nor need, to talk to this man now. They say that even if an officer had witnessed the fall, the most the man could be charged with would be public intoxication, a misdemeanor charge. If, of course, there were enough evidence of that to stand up in court.
So what that leaves Scott and his family is civil court. Last week they filed a lawsuit, against the city of Anaheim, the Anaheim Police Department, and the man they believe broke Scott’s neck. They charge negligence; they are seeking an unspecified dollar amount.
“I want him (the man who fell from his seat) to go through the same thing I did,” Scott says. “Actually, I really want him dead.”
Scott’s attorney, Mike Harlin, says this: “If they are going to sell alcohol, they have to figure people are going to be intoxicated. And you have to provide adequate security. . . . Anaheim Stadium is a 65,000-capacity bar on a slope. It seems to me that fundamentally asks for trouble.”
The city of Anaheim, which had earlier rejected a claim for damages, believes its position rests on solid legal ground. The city’s claim manager, Mark Persson, who recommended that the City Council deny the claim, says, “Basically, I see no negligence on the part of the city of Anaheim.”
Persson was the one who found out the identity of the man who allegedly broke Scott’s neck. Persson says he just called a witness listed on the police report. The man who fell from his seat did not return my calls.
Thus it seems that aside from Scott and his family, nobody is getting too worked up about what appears to be just another alcohol-related “accident.”
These accidents happen all the time, on the road, in the home, anywhere that booze obliterates common sense. And defining them as something other than accidents is legally a tough proposition.
Did a drinker get in his car with the intent to murder someone else? Probably not.
Did a bar owner serve a patron yet another drink, knowing that this action would bring harm to someone else? The answer is probably no. And the law in California says that businesses, or social hosts, cannot be held responsible for serving a fateful drink.
So what we are left with, really, is nothing more than a hollow warning: Watch out.
Problem is, who can say where to watch? Drunks, it seems, can even fall out of the sky.