"Camp Randall Crush" remembered 20 years later

By: Phil Levin Email
By: Phil Levin Email
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POSTED Wednesday, October 30, 2013 --- 5:45 p.m.
Reporter: Phil Levin

On October 30, 1993, students stormed the field after a big win against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan, injuring more than seventy people at Camp Randall Stadium.

The so called "Camp Randall Crush" started when students decided to rush the field, but guards were trained not to open field gates. Fans near the top of the stands kept pushing forward as those near the field were pressed against the fence.

"It was like running water, there was just a sea of people that started moving forward," said Peter Strube, a student at Luther College in Iowa at the time in town visiting a high school friend. "I can remember very clearly being trapped in a corner of the railing with two women and holding on for dear life."

In the chaos, ten women were trampled or squeezed and stopped breathing. Strube, a nursing student at the time who had assisted in emergency rooms, started CPR on one of the victims and likely saved her life. He remembers rushing others in and out ambulances and a triage started in the weight room.

"I can remember putting people on backboards," said Strube. "There were hockey sticks in there that we broke in half and used as splints on legs."

Remarkably, all of the victims survived.

Strube later went back to anesthesia school and credits the crush with influencing his career. Also an army reservist, Strube served three deployments and is now a certified registered nurse anesthetist at UW Hospital.

Michael Brin, a freshman quarterback at the time, also helped save a woman with CPR. He is now a doctor in the Milwaukee area. Others on his team still remember listening to the celebration turned stampede from the locker room.

"Winning that thing on a fourth down stop, the game was over, you're excited, you're jumping around, you're trying to run through the student section to get back to the locker room and they're coming in with tears in their eyes," said Scott Nelson, a senior safety at the time from Sun Prairie.

"We had no idea what was going on. We walk out into the stadium, we see chunks of concrete that had fallen off, I think the magnitude finally hits you."

Emergency staff had twelve paramedics scattered on site trained by UW Doctor Marv Birnbaum. Usually used to working in teams, he remembers deciding to split them up after several students stopped breathing.

"They looked awful because they're blue above their head and neck and they look dead for all practical purposes," said Birnbaum. "I was talking to the hospital so they knew what they were going to get in each ambulance."

Birnbaum remembers calling in ambulances from as far away as Sun Prairie and sending patients to three hospitals. Many fans were oblivious to the suffering on the field and continued celebrating even after ambulances arrived. Birnbaum says despite the chaos, his team and first responders were still able to evacuate all the injured in just 27 minutes.

Following the game many students sold their remaining tickets, afraid of what might happen after Ohio State came to town. The school installed new gates that could not lock in students. Police, fire, medical and other emergency staff still man the stadium's Security Operations Center during each game and can keep in contact with their counterparts on the field and in the community, as well as activate the facility's public address system.

Mayor Paul Soglin remembers rushing to the stadium from his home nearby as soon as the crush started.

"It enters my mind at every game, it enters my mind whenever there's a large crowd on State St.," he said.

"I've never been back to Camp Randall," said Strube. "I've tried to go back a few times, I've bought tickets, I just can't get through the gates."

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