COLLEGE STATION, Texas - As the 10th anniversary of the deadly bonfire collapse approaches this week, the former president of Texas A&M University says only her successor can decide whether the tradition returns to campus, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports that former president Elsa Murano, 50, had met with the families of 10 of the 12 people who died in the Nov. 18, 1999 bonfire collapse that left 27 people hurt.
In 1999, the wedding cake-like bonfire structure collapsed while students were building it. The accident ended the bonfire as an annual tradition before the Texas A&M-Texas football game, although students and alumni still hold the event without university support.
Each year, hundreds of A&M students labor through the fall months to keep the bonfire alive in a rural pasture 15 miles from campus.
Texas A&M reached a $2.1 million settlement with several plaintiffs in October 2008. The families of some of the students killed and injured sued university administrators and construction contractors hired to help build the 59-foot-tall tower of logs that toppled.
After the settlement, Murano met with some of the families to her decide if the tradition should return to campus. She resigned in June after receiving a poor performance review.
"No matter what, there will be pressure on either side ... and it won't please everyone," she said. "At the end of the day, the decision should rest in the head, heart and soul of the university president."
Murano, now a Texas A&M nutrition and food science professor, said the university president's decision should come without interference from others, especially those in positions of authority.
Her successor is scheduled to be selected in February.
Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News reported that Lane Stephenson, a university spokesman, said none of the nine university regents had proposed bringing the bonfire back to campus.
In 2002, a university report estimated it would take between $2 million and $3 million to provide proper oversight, safety equipment and liability insurance for a campus bonfire.
One of the people injured in the collapse, 29-year-old John Comstock, is scheduled to graduate from A&M next spring. He will roll across the stage in his wheelchair to receive a bachelor's degree in agricultural leadership.
"I wanted to prove I could do it," he said.
Comstock was wiring logs together, suspended about 40 to 50 feet in the air when the stack collapsed.
It took rescue workers more than five hours to pull him out of the jumble. A crane on an 18-wheeler removed a log from his head. His left leg was crushed and was later amputated above the knee. His right side was partially paralyzed.
"I was in pretty bad shape," he said.
On the Net:
The Eagle, http://www.theeagle.com
The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com