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Toddler falls to death after Lakers game

Lucas Anthony Tang, 2, was with his family in a luxury suite high above the basketball floor at Staples Center. He somehow made his way over a barrier and plummeted nearly 30 feet.

November 22, 2010|By Kate Linthicum, Andrew Blankstein and Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times

It was minutes after the Lakers' victory over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night, and the crowd streaming out of Staples Center was ebullient.

In a luxury suite high above the basketball floor, the Tang family lingered to take pictures. Two-year-old Lucas Anthony Tang posed with his parents and his 11-year-old sister in front of a glass barrier meant to protect fans from the steep drop below. But as the family reviewed the pictures on their digital camera, they lost track of Lucas.

In the moments that followed, the toddler somehow made his way over the barrier. He plummeted nearly 30 feet, landing on a row of empty plastic seats. Lucas, who would have turned 3 in January, was pronounced dead at a hospital early Monday morning.

His death shook fans and Lakers players, who offered their condolences to the Tang family at an emotional news conference. Officials at Staples Center said it was the first fatality of its kind at the arena, which opened a decade ago. Although falls from luxury boxes appear to be exceedingly rare, Lucas' death raised questions about the safety of stadium skyboxes, which are high above the arena floor and guarded by a barrier as low as 26 inches.

David Lara, a spokesman for the L.A. Department of Building and Safety, said the luxury box barriers fully complied with building codes when Staples Center was built and still do today.

In 2009, an employee at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego tripped and fell inside a suite in the stadium's press box during a Chargers game. Walt Daniels, 66, died after falling at least 30 feet to the concrete below. After the accident, Cal/OSHA called for a number of safety improvements at that stadium. The agency concluded that the skybox barrier was too low and ordered that 42-inch guardrails be installed. The Chargers appealed the mandate, saying such high barriers would block sightlines.

The Los Angeles Police Department's juvenile division has launched an investigation into Lucas' death, which it said is routine in such a case. The L.A. County coroner's office said Lucas suffered severe head trauma but has not determined the exact cause of death.

A person who knows the family told The Times that the parents had kept a close eye on Lucas, who spent most of the game on his mother's lap.

A woman who answered the door at the Tangs' ranch-style home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Garden Grove said the family was not ready to talk. The family put up a basketball hoop at the end of the block, a neighbor said. For their children's birthdays, the family hosted big parties with lot of kids.

It was unclear why the parents, Henry Tang and Homaimi Nguyen, were in the skybox. Most skyboxes are leased for up to $300,000 a year.

At the front of the boxes is a safety barrier that at its lowest point consists of a 10-inch concrete wall and a 16-inch piece of synthetic glass.

"Our condolences and prayers go to the Tang family," said Michael Roth, a spokesman for Staples Center. "We are working with the Los Angeles Police Department on the investigation of this tragedy."

After their practice in El Segundo on Monday, Lakers players and coaches shared their thoughts on the incident.

Guard Derek Fisher, whose infant daughter successfully battled a rare, life-threatening form of eye cancer three years ago, said he was stunned.

"When our fans come to the game to support us, the last thing we want to happen is for someone to be injured or, in this case, a child to lose a life," Fisher said.

"I'll say a prayer for that family today," said forward Lamar Odom, who lost a son four years ago to sudden infant death syndrome.

Added Coach Phil Jackson: "It's a very sad situation, and we're very sorry for that family."

The Lakers had already left the court when Lucas fell. But some fans were still milling around. Jenny Kim, 24, was standing on the floor after the game, waiting for the players to come out, when she heard someone shout: "Somebody died over there!"

She turned and saw a crowd of people gathered around a row of seats about halfway up the arena.

About 15 minutes later, she watched paramedics carry Lucas out on a gurney.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Times staff writers Mark Medina, Mike Bresnahan and Ben Fritz contributed to this report.

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