A Seattle area teacher suffered a broken neck when a raucous fan at Yankee Stadium tumbled several rows and landed on his neck – as his wife and son watched in horror.
Doctors said teacher Paul Robinson is lucky he wasn’t paralyzed or even killed.
Robinson, 53, was in the top tier at the Stadium with his wife, Kathy, and 13-year-old son, John, during the Yankees’ 12-0 blowout against the Los Angeles Angels last Sunday when the mystery fan’s fall snapped Robinson’s head forward so hard it broke the Vertebrae below the skull.
“It felt like my head had been ripped off,” Robinson told the Daily News in an exclusive bedside interview at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, his face swollen and his neck heavily bruised.
Surgeons said Robinson, who underwent 2-1/2 hours of surgery at Montefiore, was lucky.
“It is pretty much the most dangerous place in the spine to get a fracture,” said Montefiore director of spinal neurosurgery John Houten, who placed a surgical screw in Robinson’s neck.
“This is just above the spot in the spinal cord responsible for breathing. If the spinal cord was damaged, it would have been certain death. Mr. Robinson is very lucky. This could have easily gone the other way.”
To add insult to Robinson’s near-fatal injury, his wife said, the Yankee front office initially would not give her information about the incident, citing confidentiality. She said she was referred to the team’s legal department.
Last night, the Yankees were singing a different tune – after the Daily News contacted team spokesman Howard Rubenstein. Yankee chief operating officer Lonn Trost called Kathy Robinson and promised the team would help the family get back home.
“He was very apologetic and very gracious, not only for what happened but for the way the Yankees handled it,” Kathy Robinson said. “Our immediate concern is getting Paul home. Commercial flights are difficult to arrange at the last minute. He said the Yankees will help us get home. That was what I wanted to hear last Monday. I felt like the concern was genuine.”
Robinson told the Daily News his family was in New York for the first time on the start of a long-planned baseball vacation.
The Kirkland, Wash., family planned to spend a few days in the Big Apple, and then visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown before heading to Boston for a game at Fenway Park.
“On Saturday, we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,” Kathy Robinson said. “We saw ‘Rent.’ We went to Times Square. We were having a great time.”
On Sunday, the family took the subway from their midtown hotel to Yankee Stadium, then settled into their seats in Tier 26, the upper section along the left-field line.
“The Yankees were killing the Angels and by the eighth inning people were starting to leave,” Paul Robinson said. “All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this body comes crashing down onto my head. I knew I was badly injured as soon as it happened.”
Robinson and his family did not get a good look at the mystery fan who nearly left him dead or paralyzed. They do not know why the man in blue jeans fell. They think he may have been drinking.
“He hit Paul like a dead weight,” Kathy Robinson said. “He made no attempt to catch himself. He fell in the seats in front of us and he could not get up. It was like his body had gone completely limp. Then two of his friends came over and dragged him away very quickly.
“I found it odd that they didn’t even ask if Paul was okay,” she added. “It’s very steep up there, but if it was an innocent trip, they would ask if Paul was okay.”
Although the lout who fell on Robinson didn’t care, plenty of other Yankee fans did. Several called for emergency medical technicians. Two women sitting nearby identified themselves as nurses and immediately began administering first aid.
“They were wonderful,” Kathy Robinson said. “We’d like to thank them for all they did for us, but we don’t even know their names.”
The EMTs put a protective collar around Robinson’s neck and took him to a Stadium first-aid station before taking him to Montefiore. Kathy Robinson said a Stadium employee questioned her and she then signed a report about the incident.
On Monday, she realized she might need the document for insurance or other purposes. When she called Yankee Stadium, she was directed to fan services and promotions. When she finally reached that department, she was told the information was private and to contact the team’s lawyers.
“We were disappointed that they didn’t even call to see how I was,” Paul Robinson said. “There was no show of concern. We were not met with a whole lot of care.”
All that changed after the Daily News called. “Lonn Trost displayed an enormous amount of sympathy over this,” Rubenstein said. “We are sorry this happened.”
BY MICHAEL O’KEEFFE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER