Members of the Wheaton community gathered together in Pierce chapel on both Saturday and Sunday to mourn the loss of freshman transfer Ethan Roser after the tragedy at Saturday’s track and field meet. Hundreds filled the chapel for a time of corporate grieving and prayer.
Roser, a recent transfer student to Wheaton and member of the men’s soccer team, was volunteering as a distance spotter for the field events at Lawson field when he was fatally struck by a throwing hammer. Eyewitness accounts report that Roser — along with three other volunteers from the soccer team — was standing off the field of play, about five yards back from the throwing radius.
According to the students near Roser, the four players were standing together while an athlete from Aurora University conducted a practice throw with the 16-pound hammer, which errantly went out of bounds. The hammer went right over the head of one of the players before striking Roser in the head. The hammer ricocheted off Roser then lightly hit a third student in the head. First responders and trainers immediately tried to resuscitate Roser.
The Wheaton Police and Fire Departments received an emergency call, reporting that Roser was in cardiac arrest. Members of the Wheaton Fire Department then transported Roser to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove; the other student also went to Central DuPage Hospital for precautionary measures but was shortly released. At one point, paramedics were momentarily able to resuscitate Roser, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at the hospital. The DuPage County Coroner’s office listed head trauma as the preliminary cause of death after an autopsy on Monday.
The Police Department is now beginning an investigation to determine criminal negligence, though none is currently suspected. Public Safety did not respond to questions regarding an investigation.
The Wheaton Deputy Chief Bill Murphy said that the throw which hit Roser seemed to be “off-angle,” and he noted that Roser was outside the lines where the hammer was supposed to land. For the Police Department and news sources alike, this has raised the question: How was Roser struck by the hammer when he was in an area which should have been safe, away from the throwing radius?
“Things like this are not supposed to happen (during the event),” Murphy said. “What broke down at this point, I don’t know.”
The hammer throw is a field event that involves throwing a 9-16-pound metal ball attached to a wire. The NCAA requires that athletes use a safety cage, which partially encloses around the thrower. This is intended to prevent the hammer from traveling off course. There is such a cage at Lawson field.
But the NCAA track and field rule book acknowledges that the hammer throw event can still be dangerous: “Cage design is acknowledged to provide limited protection for spectators, officials and competitors,” the rule book says. “It does not ensure safety.”
According to senior Laura Clark, a former sports photographer for the Record, close calls have happened at Lawson field before. She told the Record about an instance last year while she was photographing: “I was standing a short distance away from the group of spectators sitting on the edges of the hammer-throw field, watching the athlete throw. They were all behind the little tape line that designated the field. Since it was sunny and hot, a lot of people had their umbrellas out and at one point the hammer was thrown out of bounds and it hit the front of a man’s umbrella … Thankfully he was okay, but it left both him and the crowd a bit stunned.”
Other previous incidents from an errantly thrown hammer include the death of a University of Chicago Track Club member in 1981, at a meet in Naperville, Ill., just miles from Wheaton.
The Wheaton men’s soccer team volunteers at all the field events — hammer throw, javelin and discus — to help measure the distance of throws or remove items from the field of play. Players undergo a brief tutorial period before they begin volunteering for field events.
The Wheaton College community continues to mourn the loss of Roser. President Philip Ryken said in a statement: “We are deeply grieved, but, because of our faith in Christ, not without hope.”