Marines vet who saved stadium jumper: 'I just happened to be there'
By Rick Hurd and David DeBolt | Contra Costa Times | Published: November 26, 2013
STOCKTON, Calif.— Oakland Raider Hall of Famer Willie Brown paid a visit to Donnie Navidad Monday. Legendary wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff called to thank him. The game ball from Sunday's matchup against the Tennessee Titans rested on the living room floor of Navidad's Stockton home, a testament to his heroics that day.
The whirlwind provided a distraction, but the 61-year-old government worker and Marine Corps veteran couldn't shake the questions that remain a day after he leapt to break the fall of a woman jumping from the third deck of the Oakland Coliseum.
Is she going to be OK? Why did she do it? Will I have the chance to talk to her?
"I don't know who she was," Navidad said. "I just happened to be there."
The woman, who jumped shortly after the conclusion of the Raiders' 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at about 4:30 p.m., remained in extremely critical condition Monday from unspecified injuries suffered from her 50-foot plummet.
With four generations of his family by his side and a carousel of reporters coming in and out of his home on Monday, Navidad recounted the final moments before the woman's fall.
Navidad had stopped with a co-worker to take pictures by the eternal torch honoring the late Raider owner Al Davis, when he heard a woman shouting "not to do it," he said Monday. He looked up and saw a woman perched on the ledge of the third deck. His co-worker said, "she's ready to jump."
There wasn't much time to react. Navidad stuck his arms out, intending to pull her into his chest, falling with her in his arms. The left side of his body took the brunt of the impact, the woman bouncing off him before hitting the concrete a few feet from him.
A deep bruise of red, black and blue now covers his bicep, above a "Semper Fidelis" Marine Corps tattoo on his forearm. He was released from an Oakland hospital Sunday evening.
"I'm just an average government worker trying to survive in the world," he said. "I just did what I did."
The woman's identity, age and hometown have not been released. Among the issues investigators are trying to determine is whether she had been drinking.
The incident marked the second time in a year that a fan has fallen from the upper deck of the Coliseum; a teenager was seriously injured in a fall last December.
On Nov. 17, an unruly Buffalo Bills fan tried to slide down the upper-deck railing Ralph Wilson Stadium, flipped over and landed on a fan about 30 feet below him. Both men were OK, but the fan who fell was banned from the stadium for life.
Still, authorities with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, which is responsible for providing security at Raiders games, said Monday there are no immediate plans to change security procedures.
The woman entered section 301, an area cordoned off from fans during games. Security officers are not required near such sections after a game is finished, authorities said, though it was not clear if any security officers were in the area before the woman went into the section.
"There's really nothing you can do," said Sgt. J.D. Nelson of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. "You can go to any stadium in America, and if a fan is that determined to jump, he or she is going to jump, and it's going to end badly."
The woman was alive Monday, Nelson said, only because Navidad positioned himself between her and the concourse concrete below. Nelson has called him a "hero," but Navidad rejects the label. His family, though, says he's always been one.
"It doesn't surprise me at all that he sprung into action," said his wife of 27 years, Lora Robertson Navidad. "He did not want people to see that. He didn't want her to die, even though he didn't know her. He took one for the team."
Navidad, a Stockton native, served in the Marine Corps from 1970-72, fighting in the Vietnam War. He served an additional 15 years in the reserves, and has worked for the General Services Administration for 42 years. The father of three, with eight grandchildren, has plans to retire soon and for the first time, the longtime Raider fan purchased season tickets this year.
He plans on returning to the Coliseum in December for the Raiders' two final home games of the season. He's preparing for a flashback of the incident. But, he said, he won't think twice if another fan needs his help.
"Had I not taken any actions and she hit the pavement, that there alone would have been etched in my mind until the day I die, knowing that I could have done something," he said. "That would have left an impact you'd never forget."
Stockton resident Donnie Navidad, 61, left, laughs with former Oakland Raider Willie Brown, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Stockton, Calif., as he talks about saving a young woman's life after a Raiders NFL football game at the Coliseum. Navidad said when he saw a woman jumping from the upper deck at the Oakland Raiders' stadium on Sunday, his military instincts immediately kicked in as he lunged forward trying to catch her.
Calixtro Romias, The Record/AP