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Published: Monday, 9/22/2003

Falling goal posts injure two UT students

BY JACK BAESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Serious injuries to two University of Toledo students Saturday night during the post-game celebration of the school's football victory have prompted school officials to investigate its crowd control practices.

The injuries cast a pall over the University of Toledo's 35-31 win over the ninth-ranked University of Pittsburgh.

Esther Munn, 22, a senior majoring in theater and music and who has trained as a ballerina, was in critical condition last night in Toledo Hospital. An acquaintance who attends the same church as Ms. Munn said the pastor told the congregation yesterday the student has a broken neck and may have suffered paralysis. Her family declined to comment.

The other injured student, Joe Moening, 21, a Toledo engineering senior, was in serious condition in Toledo Hospital. His sister, Allison Dollman, said he underwent five hours of surgery yesterday to repair crushed vertebrae of the lower spine.

The two were hurt in separate incidents about 15 minutes apart in the moments following the game as fans toppled both goal posts after running onto the field at the Glass Bowl, campus police chief John Dauer said.

Ms. Munn, who had attended the game, was about 150 yards away from the stadium on a bridge over the Ottawa River that meanders through campus. She was hit by one of the goal posts as fans on the bridge tried to dump it into the river about 11 p.m.

“She was trying to turn to get out of the way and one of the goal posts struck her in the head,” said Chief Dauer.

An ambulance apparently heading toward the stadium stopped on the bridge when the crew saw her injury and took her to the hospital, he said.

UT senior Joe Moening is an enginering student. UT senior Joe Moening is an enginering student.
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Mr. Moening fell on the field in the moments after the game as fans swarmed around the goal posts, the chief said.

“He was trampled when the mob came on the field,” Chief Dauer said. He was transported by private ambulance.

Mr. Moening's mother, Jana Plezia-Dollman, said last night her son does not have any feeling in his leg but does have limited movement. He remained in neuro-intensive care at the hospital last night, she said.

The chief said he will direct a detailed review of the entire incident, which will include contacting other universities about postgame security practices.

Over the last 20 years, a number of universities have beefed up security in an effort to keep fans off the field. In some cases, police are authorized to use chemical spray.

“We have never had a team in the Top 10 come to Toledo,” Chief Dauer said. “We will have to review the whole situation.”

Even though Chief Dauer worked the game, he conceded he did not become aware of how seriously the students were hurt until late yesterday after relatives and friends called The Blade to report the injuries.

Two female students whom the university declined to identify sustained minor injuries. One of them had several bruises and the other one claimed an injury but refused treatment, Chief Dauer said.

A combined group of 30 campus and off-duty Toledo police officers were hired for security, about five more than the chief said he normally would call in for big games.

When fans and students tried to topple the goal posts, there was no talk among officers to try to block their path, Chief Dauer said. The decision was made to let the mob have its way in a controlled fashion, he said.

“When you have several hundred people rushing the field, that is a concern,” he said. “When that same mob starts tearing down the goal posts, it becomes a real concern. It is very difficult to try and stop that large of a crowd from getting [at the goal posts]. It was basically trying to control them to prevent damage and injury.”

Esther Munn: Studying dance, music. Esther Munn: Studying dance, music.
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While one set of goal posts was dragged north toward the river, the other set was hauled west of the stadium to a field near Parks Tower.

“In talking with some of the officers afterward, they felt they had control the best they could,” Chief Dauer said.

Police said property damage was limited to the goal posts and broken emergency lights on a campus police van.

University officials said they were saddened that students were hurt after the game.

“I know the president [Dan Johnson] feels extremely badly about this happening in the midst of a tremendous victory,” Tobin Klinger, a UT spokesman, said. “Our thoughts are with the students and their families and we'll help them cope with it to the extent we possibly can.”

Mr. Klinger said the number of officers on duty will be among the issues examined.

“The investigation will seek less to find any criminal wrongdoing and more about what we can do to prevent this from happening again,” he said.

Staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.



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