Last season the Buffalo Bills made news when a fan fell from the upper deck at Ralph Wilson Stadium and injured a spectator below.
On Tuesday that man, Robert Hopkins of Buffalo, was found guilty of third-degree assault and second-degree reckless endangerment. Hopkins, who will be sentenced on September 11, could face up to one year in jail after the verdict.
The Orchard Park Town Court's six-member jury took just 20 minutes of deliberation after the three-day trial.
Stadium video surveillance showed Hopkins repeatedly sliding down the rail before falling over the side and onto Mark Bratcher who was 20-25 feet below in his seat. Bratcher suffered head, neck and back injuries.
Hopkins was not seriously hurt after his fall on November 17 during a Bills-Jets game. After the incident it became public that he had lost his job in public relations and has been banned from the stadium.
Bratcher has since seen neurosurgeon Dr. Loubert Steven Suddaby who claims that Bratcher, 29, had bulging discs in two places in his cervical spine and a herniated disc in his middle spine. Suddaby also stated that his patient could have been killed or left a quadriplegic if the fall had hit him just two inches forward.
Defense lawyer Patrick Brown argued that the incident did not prove recklessness because there was no evidence that Hopkins had "perceived and ignored risk"," which Assistant District Attorney G. Michael Drmacich responded that Hopkins obviously knew the risk and disregarded it.
This was the first incident of its kind in recent years in Buffalo. While the problem of fans falling from higher levels has always existed, it hadn't been a problem in Ralph Wilson Stadium at all. Since the incident there haven't been any more of its kind reported as the team looks at ways to make the fan experience safer and more enjoyable.
Currently Ralph Wilson Stadium is undergoing renovations that focus on the fan experience. There has not been any word on if the areas like the one that Hopkins fell from have been adjusted to further prevent falls like that from occurring again.
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