‘It’s like a death trap’: Phish fans speak out after San Franciscos Chase Center falling tragedy – SF Gate

Susan Babuka moved away from her seat on Saturday night.

“We were in the uppers, in [the] first row, and we sat down in our seats and sort of stood up to look around and I got vertigo,” Babuka, who is 5-foot-3 and 56, told SFGATE in a call Tuesday, “because the barriers are below, way below, waist height. They’re just above knee height, and they’re glass, you can’t see them. There’s nothing.”

She stood up and left her prime view because she was worried someone was going to fall. In the 300 or so times she’s seen Phish, Babuka said she had never been worried that the venue she was at would pose a risk to her safety.

A day later, during the second show, two people fell — and one died. (San Francisco police spokesman Robert Rueca told SFGATE Tuesday evening that their investigation “has evidence to believe” the person who died from their fall leapt from the upper rungs of Chase Center. No foul play is believed to be involved.)


“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the guest’s loved ones,” Chase Center spokeswoman Kimberly Veale told SFGATE in a statement. “We are working with the local authorities to determine exactly what happened.”

Veale also assured guests in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle that the Chase Center “was built and is operated in accordance with all safety standards and requirements governing facilities of its kind” in the state and city. (SFGATE and the Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.)

But following the falling death of a concertgoer identified as 47-year-old New York resident Ryan Prosser at Sunday’s Phish show — and at least two injuries in the second fall — some fans who were in attendance at the concert are urging the Chase Center to make the venue safer for future concertgoers.

A source who spoke to SFGATE on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the tragedy was seated at the section where the first victim landed.

“I did not see it, but we all heard it,” the individual said. “It was a massive bang. It was a really big, big sound. And I look over, and you know there are people crowded around already so I can’t quite see what’s in there, but somebody indicated that someone had fallen.”

According to the source’s recollection, paramedics arrived within minutes — maybe even “literally within a minute.” Medics were rushing to resuscitate the individual, but shortly after, a police officer escorted the entire section out.

The scene during the aftermath was wrought with sadness.

“One woman, I think, was really right where he landed [and] was just devastated, crying, just sitting on the floor outside the area. Everyone was in a state of shock,” the person said.

Babuka witnessed the second fall that night; she and many others at the venue were not aware of the first one, at least until after the show.

It took place around halfway through Phish’s set, she said. Her seats during the second night were on a lower section, which theoretically would mean a better viewing experience. But she was discontented with the sound.

“I don’t care about seeing the band; I just want to hear the music,” she said. “And when we got up to leave, we noticed that an entire section of the venue was empty, which is, you know, odd.”

So Babuka and her group moved to the back-center of the arena, in the second-highest section. 

Dan Fitzsimmons, a 54-year-old fan who was at the show, said he arrived late, but the first thing he noticed was just how precarious his seating arrangement in the 200 level was.

“My seats were right up against the Plexiglas rail, and I’m 6-foot-1. That rail was probably six inches to eight inches below my waistline, or even farther. I mean, it’s below my crotch level.”

His other big concern, in addition to the height of the rail, was just how little space is between the front row seats and the rail. His knees were “right up against that Plexiglas,” he said.

“When I got there, I was in my seat [and] I was like, ‘Oh my god, it is just so dangerous.’ It’s like a death trap up here … so I didn’t dance the whole show, because I didn’t feel comfortable.”

And during a set break, just as Babuka and Fitzsimmons began settling in, they both caught glimpses of the fall.  Fitzsimmons says he caught it “from the corner of his eye.” Babuka heard the sound four or five rows away.

“It was just a really sickening thud,” said Babuka. “I’ve never heard a body fall before but you just kind of know it when you hear it. It makes a particular sound … and all of us went, ‘Oh, you know, that did not sound good.’”

She walked closer to see what had taken place, and noticed a crowd form around the man who had fallen. 

The person who he landed on, Evan Reeves, told KPIX that he dragged himself away after sustaining his injuries. He also shared his own concern with the height of the dividers, as well as how narrow the rows on the balcony are.

“For many of us, going to Phish shows is an enormous source of joy and community and this terrible thing … made a joyous event terribly sad,” the anonymous source said.

Phish perform onstage at the Nassau Coliseum on December 1, 2019 in Uniondale, New York.

Phish perform onstage at the Nassau Coliseum on December 1, 2019 in Uniondale, New York.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for RLM

Fitzsimmons has experience in the concert industry, and knows the difficulty of re-constructing an arena despite his gripes with Chase Center.

His suggestion: Set up a safety net.

“To rearrange the seats and redesign all that would be a lot of money,” he said, “so the only thing … that wouldn’t be in the audience’s way is putting a safety net just below that rail all the way around … maybe six feet out.”

While Babuka admits herself that she has little knowledge of what official safety regulations require of major arenas like Chase Center, she thinks that its owners should increase the size of the Plexiglas barriers in the upper areas of the venue. For what it’s worth, Fitzsimmons notes that a lot of fans would probably complain about higher dividers, even if it proved to be safer.

And if nothing else, Babuka suggests adding some sort of large, opaque lip at the bottom of the dividers to ensure that people have spatial awareness. 

Setups at other major venues, such as Madison Square Garden, have these measures in place. And while Chase Center primarily serves as a venue to watch the Golden State Warriors — meaning that most attendees will be seated — the arena also hosts a healthy number of concerts. (The country duo Dan + Shay is performing Wednesday.)

Both, ultimately, just wish that Chase Center modified the space to protect concertgoers in the higher seats. “I would really hate to see somebody else fall and be injured like that,” Fitzsimmons said. “It was really devastating for the concertgoers, for myself, for my friends.”

And change could very well be coming soon. The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection is looking at the arena’s setup after an individual filed a complaint Monday, reported KQED.

If you are in distress, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255, or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more resources.

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