A longtime Atlanta Braves season ticket-holder was seen passionately rooting against a Yankees slugger when he toppled over the upper-level railing at Turner Field on Saturday night, falling to his death on the concrete at least 40 feet below.
While investigators said Sunday they haven’t determined what caused Gregory Kent Murrey to fall, witnesses and the Braves organization alike expressed sadness and shock over the Alpharetta man’s death.
“We’re all dealing with the sadness and the tragedy of it, for the gentleman’s family and anybody who happened to witness it,” Braves President John Schuerholz said Sunday. “It’s difficult, and that’s what our focus is right now…trying to do everything we can to help the families deal with this as best as possible. Not only the family of the gentleman, but others who witnessed it, experienced it.”
Murrey’s death marked the third fatal fall at Turner Field since 2008, though a 2013 incident was ruled a suicide and the circumstances of each incident have differed.
Murrey’s death was also the 24th fatal fall at a baseball park since 1969, according to Robert Gorman, co-author of a book titled “Death at the Ballpark.” Atlanta has had the most.
And while alcohol often contributes to falls at baseball parks, and suicides account for some, there’s one main reason Gorman cited for why people fall watching America’s pastime: the size of the stadiums.
“It’s because the stadiums are so big, you have a longer way to fall,” Gorman said.
More than 49,000 people were at the Braves’ Saturday night game, but many were unaware of the commotion that happened behind home plate. Others saw an image they can’t forget: the 60-year-old Murrey falling head first, somehow avoiding landing on anyone else as he hit the concrete below.
“It was surreal,” said Donnie Marley of Fayetteville, N.C. “It was like, ‘Did I just see that happen?’”
It was the top of the seventh inning, and Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez had been announced as the next batter. Rodriguez, 40, returned to baseball this year after a 2014 suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, and Braves fans weren’t very welcoming.
Murrey was among those booing, and he had stood up from his second-row seat in the 400 level when he lost his balance, witnesses said. He passed through those in the front row as he toppled over the railing, landing in section 202.
Some fans immediately left the area and others were in tears. Many weren’t sure what had happened, but suspected it wasn’t good. Braves radio broadcaster Jim Powell called it his worst moment in 20 years of broadcasting major league games and said he didn’t want to continue, but the game didn’t stop.
Paramedics began life-saving measures on Murrey that lasted for several minutes, but he was dead upon arrival at Grady Memorial Hospital. Atlanta police believe the fall was accidental and do not suspect foul play. An autopsy will be conducted to determine whether alcohol was a factor.
Investigators also asked for help from witnesses who saw Murrey fall, Sgt. Greg Lyon said Sunday.
Murrey was a married father and grandfather who owned an insurance business in Roswell. Sunday afternoon at Turner Field, the American flag was at half-staff and a moment of silence was held in Murrey’s honor.
Murrey’s death was the second in two years at Turner Field, and a third man died in 2008. Each tragedy has raised questions about can be done to prevent future falls, but it’s not an easy solution.
“The problem is sight line,” Gorman said. “If you make the railings too high, the people in the front row won’t be able to see.”
Schuerholz said Sunday that safety is a top concern for every major league team, including the Braves — who are awaiting the completion of a new Cobb County stadium for their move in 2017.
“We made our plans (for the new ballpark) long before this event occurred,” Schuerholz said. “Every facility that’s getting built, there’s a great deal of communication with architects, with engineers, and with the league, abiding by league standards for the industry. So we certainly will do that.”
— Staff writers David O’Brien and Bill Torpy contributed to this story.