While Arrowhead Stadium will be jammed on Sunday for the Kansas City Chiefs playoff game, the Chiefs must still deal with the case of the parking lot fatality from three years ago.
Though the criminal case over the death of Kyle Van Winkle was settled last year, a wrongful death suit against the Chiefs is still pending. The victim’s family has also named the perpetrator, Joshua Bradley, in the suit. The lawsuit addresses several parking lot issues that the Chiefs continue to deal with.
Before the Chiefs’ first pre-season game this season, yellow lines were painted in Arrowhead Stadium’s parking lot. Chiefs president Mark Donovan said they’re meant to be guidelines for tailgaters to keep traffic lanes clear.
“Just help us when we need to get to those spaces whether it’s for an emergency or whether it’s to park more cars,” pleaded Donovan last August during the Chiefs pre-season.
The lawsuit claims, when emergency help was needed during the game against the Denver Broncos three years ago, the response was too slow. Kyle Van Winkle was unconscious and needed help. The suit also cites a lack of security presence.
Attorney Bill Carr who represents the plaintiff, says a tragedy occurred as a result, “There were several opportunities for it to be prevented. If they’d have had adequate security out there, in our minds and in our experts’ minds really this could have been prevented.”
Van Winkle went to the game that day with his father and friends. In the first half, Van Winkle left the stadium and got into an unlocked Jeep that looked like the one he rode to the game in, which was only about ten parking spaces away. With the game still in progress, the vehicle owner and his son returned to their Jeep and found Van Winkle asleep inside. The son was sent to get help and, instead of security personnel, other tailgaters including Joshua Bradley of Independence responded.
After an argument, Bradley and Van Winkle scuffled, and Van Winkle was left unconscious on the ground. An autopsy showed that Van Winkle died from a blow to his head. He left a wife and a son, who was born shortly before tragedy.
“For Jenni Van Winkle, to know that someday she’s going to have to explain to her son how his father was killed,” says Carr. “I can’t imagine the weight that it puts on her.”
Last year, Bradley pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He’s currently serving five years’ probation. After Bradley’s sentencing, the Van Winkle family filed its lawsuit against him and the Chiefs.
Carr explains the reasons behind the suit.
“Losing a father and a husband like this is an absolute travesty. It never should have happened,” he says. “What we want to do with this lawsuit is hold, especially the Kansas City Chiefs, responsible for the climate and the atmosphere that they have established out there in those parking lots.”
Chiefs president Mark Donovan makes no apologies for encouraging a party atmosphere before the Chiefs kick off. “We want to promote tailgating. We want everyone to celebrate that and enjoy themselves,” he says.
However, Donovan acknowledges another problem stemming from that: Fans hanging out without tickets to the game. “We don’t necessarily want to promote people coming out here and partying and not going into the stadium,” he says.
That was an issue in 2013, according to Carr.
“As you look into this incident that occurred on that day, the only person that had a ticket to the game that day was involved in any of this process at all was the man who lost his life, Kyle Van Winkle,” Carr says.
Thousands of people used to regularly continue their party in the parking lot after the game started. But now, except for the golf carts with security personnel aboard, the parking lot atmosphere becomes subdued once the game inside Arrowhead is underway.
During the Chiefs home game against New Orleans, there was a group in lawn chairs, adults and kids, watching the game on a big screen in Parking Lot A, the same lot where Van Winkle was beaten. The TV sat in the rear of an SUV.
A golf cart passed by a few minutes earlier, but none of the tailgaters was asked to leave. Why not? Because stadium personnel knew that some in this group chose not to use their game tickets.
“We’re putting 76,000 people in that stadium. We want the most amount of spaces available for the people going into the game,” says Donovan. “If there are multiple people taking up spaces that are never going to the game, the people that are actually there for the game are going to have a less enjoyable experience because of parking experience and traffic experience because of that.”
As for security, Donovan said the lots have more of an undisclosed security presence. “That’s intentional,” says Donovan why he doesn’t disclose the number of security personnel. “It’s supposed to provide a better experience for everybody and it’s supposed to also provide a deterrent.”
Last October, The Washington Post published an in-depth article about the increase of unruly fan behavior at NFL games. In the stands and in the parking lot. One thing it found: If the home team loses, no matter who the opponent is or what time the game kicks off, there are more arrests.
On Dec.1, 2013, the Chiefs lost to the Broncos. But more was lost that day than just a game.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.