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Official Dies After Shotput Accident

Paul Suzuki, 77, who had worked at local meets for decades, is hit in the head during practice for the U.S. championships at the Home Depot Center.

June 23, 2005|Helene Elliott and Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writers

Paul Suzuki of West Los Angeles, a former landscape maintenance worker who had officiated at local track and field meets for decades, was killed Wednesday when he was struck in the head by a 16-pound shot while shotputters practiced for the U.S. track and field championships at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Suzuki, 77, was struck shortly after 4 p.m. He was treated at the scene and transported to Harbor UCLA Medical Center, where he died.

"He did this for the fun," said Sheila Suzuki Hubbard, one of his three children. "He retired a long time ago."

Firefighter Robert Bruce of Station 116 in Carson said the station received a call at 4:10 and arrived at 4:13 p.m. "He was in dire straits when we showed up," Bruce said. "It was obvious that he had a severe injury to his head.

"At the time, he was still breathing, but he was not conscious and his vital signs were diminishing as we rode over. When you have injuries like that, the brain tends to swell up quickly and your vital signs tend to start shutting down."

Bruce said Suzuki stopped breathing en route to the hospital, and emergency workers performed CPR. Doctors continued the CPR at the hospital's trauma center, which Bruce estimated was no more than 10 minutes away.

The accident stunned other meet officials and athletes who had been on the field. Some athletes began to pray, while others stood nearby in tears and in disbelief.

The U.S. track and field championships start today and end Sunday.

The identity of the male athlete who threw the shotput was not immediately known.

William Mocnik Jr. of Cerritos, who was an alternate official for the shotput competition, said he saw the incident but was too distressed to talk about it. "It was horrible," he said. "It was just an accident.

"He had officiated for 30 years or so, at least, that I know of."

Jim Hanley, another meet official and member of a local track and field officials' organization, did not see the incident but knew Suzuki.

"It made all of us real sick. I was crying when I heard about it," Hanley said. Suzuki was "just a real nice guy. He was always nice to new people who came into the organization."

Said Dick McQuarrie, another official: "I've known Paul for years. It's just a tragic situation."

Jill Geer, a spokeswoman for USA Track and Field, said the organization could not comment until it received permission to do so from the Suzuki family. Officials of the Home Depot Center and meet organizers also declined to comment.

Scott Davis, meet director of the Mt. San Antonio College Relays and a public address announcer for the U.S. championships, said Suzuki had officiated at Mt. SAC for years, primarily as a starter.

Davis said he recalled Suzuki officiating at this year's meet, in April in Walnut.

"He was very well liked," Davis said. "He's been around for years and he never failed to work at Mt. SAC. What a nice, nice man. Very polite.

"Paul was one off those guys you just couldn't help but like."

Suzuki is also survived by his wife, Dorothy, two other children and four grandchildren, according to Tillman Hubbard, a grandson.

Track and field has experienced similar tragedies involving the shotput and hammer throw events.

On April 2, USC thrower Noah Bryant was seriously injured at a meet at Cal State Northridge when the 16-point hammer he threw ricocheted off a protective screening and back into his face. Several plates were inserted into his face, including one into his cheekbone.

At this year's NCAA West Regional competition in Eugene, Ore., a female official was hit by a discus, causing a bloody wound. In 1977 in Sacramento, meet official Maree Rodebaugh was killed by a shot at Hughes Stadium. And in Europe, four people were killed by hammer throws in 2000, according to various track and field websites.

Phil Klusman, a Bakersfield sportswriter, was killed by a hammer at a track meet at Cal State Los Angeles in 1986.

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