Two Weeks Since Fan's Death, Family Still Mystified | News
BUFFALO, NY- It has been two weeks since a sellout crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium cheered the Buffalo Bills to victory over the Miami Dolphins in a nationally televised game, unaware of a tragedy unfolding involving a Dolphins fan, who was ejected from the game and never made it home.
The body of David Gerken Jr., 26, of Palmyra, NY was discovered the next morning by his father in a shallow creek near the stadium, and his family is no closer to getting the answers they seek about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one.
Orchard Park Police have said from the onset of their investigation that it appeared Gerken's death was due to drowning, or exposure to the cold,...and that it did not appear to be due to foul play.
On November 20, the Bills confirmed that Gerken had been ejected from the game for "disorderly conduct", without specifying what form of disorderly conduct Gerken allegedly was involved in.
In a statement released on that date, the Bills also said, "We continue to review the circumstances surrounding this particular ejection."
Two On Your Side e-mailed the Bills today to see if -after two weeks-they were any closer to determining what the circumstances surrounding this particular ejection were.
The response was much the same:
"Our review of this incident is ongoing and we continue to cooperate with law enforcement during its ongoing investigation."
"Disorderly conduct is a broad statement," said Gerken's mother, Marion Gerken, in a telephone interview on Thursday. "Disorderly conduct could be anything from trying to light a cigarette to swearing in front of somebody."
According to Gerken's family, David had left his seat to go to the rest room, and then phoned his brother, who was also attending the game, to tell him he was being ejected, but didn't know why. He also, according to the family, told his brother that he would meet him at a bar north of the stadium following the game.
Gerken's body was found in an area, which is in the opposite direction, and on the other side of the stadium, from the bar he told his brother to meet him in.
The Gerkens have since buried their son, and await the results of an autopsy and toxicology report from Erie County Medical Examiner.
A source tells us that likely will not be complete, though, for another two weeks.
The Gerkens also say they have yet to hear anything from Orchard Park Police regarding their investigation, and what if anything, they may have learned about their son's final moments.
In the meantime, they wonder, about the policy regarding ejections, especially if someone is injured, or intoxicated.
"Are they just taking their ticket and saying. 'there's the door get out'?", Mrs. Gerken wondered. "Or is there some kind of responsibility either to the personnel at Ralph Wilson or the security firm to say...'do you have anybody here with you? And why don't you wait over here and we'll go tell your buddies that you're with what's going on'?"
Jim Service, General Counsel of APEX Security Group, (whose parent company, Contemporary Services Corporation, provides security inside the stadium at Bills games) declined to answer Two On Your Side's questions regarding this incident, or any others involving policies regarding the ejection of fans from games.
Service sent WGRZ-TV the following e-mail within a few days of Gerken's death.
"Thank you for your inquiry. However, Apex company policy is to make no statements to the media during an investigation by law enforcement of an incident. As such the company will be making no statements to the media at this time."
On Thursday, the Bills responded by saying, "A fan can be ejected from the stadium for violating the Fan Code of Conduct. This could include violations resulting from fighting, intoxication, disorderly conduct, ticket scalping, property damage, prohibited item and a number of additional violations. The individual is then escorted out of the stadium, unless it is determined by security personnel that the individual poses a danger to himself/herself. Security personnel then may attempt to contact family or friends of the individual or seek medical assistance at the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) location at the stadium. Depending upon the circumstances, the Designated Drivers Program of Buffalo or the Safe Way Home program may be utilized. Naturally, the range of options varies depending on the level of cooperation of the individual."
Since Gerken's death, Two On Your Side has also heard from several security guards who have worked Bills games.
While none of them had any firsthand knowledge of the incident involving Gerken, they all said the protocol for ejecting a fan is for an incident report to be filled out for every ejection, including the reasons a fan is being tossed. The fan's ticket is then confiscated and stapled to the report.
"There's a record of what happened to this person," said one security guard who requested anonymity.
However, another guard told us that in his experience that protocol was followed probably less than half of the time...especially when there are numerous fans being ejected.
The Bills have confirmed there were 94 ejections from that Thursday night game of two weeks ago.
Asked by WGRZ-TV on Thursday whether the incident involving Gerken has caused any review or change in security procedures, the team responded, "We are constantly reviewing our game day policies and procedures with all of our partners and local law enforcement and the thorough review we are currently conducting of this situation is no different."
"Was he at the wrong place at the wrong time... I mean.. who knows," wondered Mrs. Gerken about her late son. "Nobody has said anything."
When asked, Mrs. Gerken declined to say whether the family has retained an attorney or if it will explore legal action.