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Tuesday, March 19
Updated: March 20, 1:57 PM ET
Teenage girl dies after getting hit in the head

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A trip to a Columbus Blue Jackets game, given as an early 14th birthday present, ended in tragedy.

Brittanie Cecil
Brittanie Cecil died Monday night, two days after being struck by a puck that ricocheted off a defenseman's stick and into the crowd.

Brittanie, who would have turned 14 on Wednesday, became the first spectator to die after being hit by a puck at an NHL game.

The eighth-grader at Twin Valley South Middle School near Dayton was struck in the head by a shot early in the second period of the Blue Jackets' 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.

On Wednesday, Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis said his autopsy found the girl died from damage to an artery when her head snapped back. He said the injury led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain.

Columbus center Espen Knutsen's slap shot appeared to be deflected by a defenseman, with the puck flying over the high glass.

Larry Young, 61, was sitting one row in front of and two seats to the left of the girl and said he was hit in the back of the head by the puck. He believes the puck hit Brittanie and then glanced off the back of his head before hitting a small child who was sitting one seat behind him to his left.

"I felt this sudden stinging pain," Young said Tuesday from his home in Winchester, about 60 miles east of Cincinnati. "I put my hand up to my head and it was covered in blood."

His wife, Rosemary, was sitting next to him and said she didn't realize anything had happened until she heard the little girl behind her scream.

"I turned around and she was holding one hand to her mouth and had the puck in her other hand," Mrs. Young said. "That's when Larry told me he was hurt, too."

The Young's son, Kenny Ford, also of Winchester, was sitting in the same row with his parents and said he looked back at the small child who appeared about 5 years old.

"Then I looked down the row and saw the 13-year-old crying and shaking with her head in the lap of the woman she was with," Ford said.

Ford and his mother accompanied his father to the first-aid station, where both girls also were taken.

"The 13-year-old girl was talking and holding a towel to her forehead above her eye," said Mrs. Young, who said medics looked at the girl's wound and said she needed to go to a hospital.

"She started to seem a little disoriented about the time she left," Mrs. Young said.

Larry Young's wound, a cut about the size of a quarter, was bandaged and he returned to the game with his wife and son.

"I was really lucky," he said. "I feel so sorry for the girl and her family."

Brittanie lived with her mother in West Alexandria and was visiting with her father, a Columbus resident. Her parents, David Cecil and Jody Naudascher, are divorced.

The parents would not comment Tuesday about the tragedy, but Brittanie's great-grandmother expressed the family's shock.

"I thought they were protected more than that," Isabel Naudascher of Dayton told The Columbus Dispatch. "It's just hard to understand."

The small town where she lived was overcome by the loss.

"I spoke to Brittanie's father this morning," said Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean, teary eyed and his voice choking. "As a father of a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, I can't imagine the grief the family is experiencing."

A brief news release issued by the hospital said that the girl's parents donated her organs "in the hope that others will be blessed as much as they were by her life."

An honor student and cheerleader, Brittanie was remembered as a hard worker who also loved to shop. Her teammates on the soccer team chose to go ahead with a planned practice on a dreary, rainy day, kicking the ball around a grassy field near the school.

"It's a miserable day," coach Bill Deleranko said. "I figure that God's crying along with us."

Teams warn spectators over the public-address system about pucks flying into the crowd. They also place warnings on scoreboards and on the back of each ticket.

Although rare, spectators have been killed and seriously injured at minor league hockey games. In the low minor leagues and the amateur ranks, the glass is not as high around the rink.

There have been three reported deaths -- two in Canada and one in Spokane, Wash. -- due to a fan being struck by a puck since 1979.

In a statement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "Our fans are our family, and this tragic accident fills us all with a deep sense of sorrow."

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