Mercyhurst suspends hockey player Carson Briere, 2 other student-athletes after wheelchair incident at bar
Owner of wheelchair lost both legs in car crash, has documented her recovery online
Mercyhurst University suspended three-student athletes from their teams Wednesday after they were identified on surveillance video in a stairwell where a woman’s wheelchair was thrown down the stairs.
The Erie, Pennsylvania, college announced about 7 p.m. Wednesday that they had conducted an initial investigation into the incident Saturday night at Sullivan’s Pub and Eatery in Erie and placed three students “on interim suspension” from their teams pending the outcome of an investigation.
One of the athletes already has been identified as Carson Briere, 23, a hockey player and son of former NHL star and current general manager for the Philadelphia Flyers team Danny Briere. Carson apologized in a statement Wednesday after the video went viral, gaining millions of views and generating widespread outrage.
The school’s investigation started Tuesday when a friend of the bilateral amputee who owned the wheelchair posted surveillance video on Twitter that showed three men motioning toward, or handling the wheelchair before it was tossed down a steep stairwell.
A statement from Mercyhurst University. pic.twitter.com/QNhwcMYVfM— Mercyhurst University (@MercyhurstU) March 15, 2023
The woman had parked the wheelchair in the corner at the top of the stairwell while a security officer from the bar carried her to an employee restroom, which is located by the other restrooms downstairs. The bar, built in 1905, predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires easier access to facilities.
The woman regularly visited Sullivan’s because of the support from employees, according to Nate Sanders, the head of security, who said he regularly assisted the woman and considers her a friend.
Statement from Mercyhurst Athletics. pic.twitter.com/qkO2szewhi— Mercyhurst Lakers (@HurstAthletics) March 15, 2023
Sanders said he carried the woman to the restroom, and they both heard the sound of something crashing down the stairs. They thought a person might have fallen.
Instead, when Sanders walked around the corner to carry the woman back up the stairs, they saw her wheelchair at the bottom of the stairwell. Employees got her and her wheelchair back upstairs, where Sanders got her back into the damaged chair. It still could move, but sustained damage to the left brake, handles and alignment and possibly other damage, he said.
Knowing the bar has 30 security cameras, Sanders then headed directly to where the footage is stored to find out what happened. Within minutes, Sanders had zeroed in on Briere and another man wearing a plaid shirt, who Sanders said plays for the Mercyhurst men’s lacrosse team.
According to the video: three men came up the stairs and gathered at the top of the stairwell. The first man motioned toward the wheelchair then Briere sat in it and tried to wheel it out of the stairwell. The first man then left. Briere stood up, and the man in the plaid shirt moved the wheelchair to the top of the stairs and kept his hand on it as Briere shoved it.
I usually don’t post anything serious on my twitter but something happened Saturday night and just can’t stomach the thought of this kid getting away with it. In the video below is a @MercyhurstU student and is currently on the @HurstMensHockey team. Carson Briere. pic.twitter.com/kWWlEYEc7V— julia (@juliazukowski) March 14, 2023
The student-athlete wearing the plaid shirt played a role with Briere in shoving it down the stairs, Sanders said, but has not received the same attention as Briere.
Sanders then went looking for the men inside the bar shortly after the incident. He found Briere first and ejected him from the bar.
“I told him, I saw you push that wheelchair. I have the video,” Sanders said.
From the Flyers, statements from GM Daniel Briere and his son, Carson pic.twitter.com/wClfSlNBvh— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) March 15, 2023
Ten minutes later, Sanders found the man in the plaid shirt on the dance floor and ejected him too.
Sullivan’s typically has a strict policy of not releasing video footage, Sanders said, but the owners made an exception in this case. It had nothing to do with who the suspects were, Sanders said.
“It was just such a deplorable act,” he said. “Wheelchairs are meant to be durable, but they’re not meant to be thrown down the stairs.”
Part of Sullivan’s popularity stems from the fact it’s considered a safe space with lots of cameras and security employees, Sanders said. And as a friend of the person who had their wheelchair damaged, he wanted to help keep her mobile by getting a new wheelchair as soon as possible so he started the fundraiser with the woman who posted the video on Twitter.
The wheelchair owner, who at first wanted to remain anonymous, still has an “indoor” wheelchair for use at home, Sanders said, but their outside wheelchair with the shock-absorbing tires, is now damaged. The woman shouldn’t have to miss a beat or “’deal with anyone of that,” Sanders said. “She did nothing wrong.”
Wednesday night, the wheelchair owner posted on Twitter that she wants help others with the donated money.
Hi im Sydney and it was my chair that was pushed down the stairs. I’m so thankful for all of Sullivan’s help in this situation and the kind comments I see on Julia’s post. I swear I really don’t wanna keep a cent of the donated money, I’d much rather give it to those who need it. pic.twitter.com/1I5q05jdeO— Sydney (@_legless_wonder) March 16, 2023
The fundraiser stood at nearly $8,000 Wednesday night. Any money raised above what it cost to outfit a new outdoor wheelchair will go to help other people who use wheelchairs, Sanders said.
Woman lost legs in car crash
Sydney Benes, who has a TikTok account under the name SyborgSydney, has been documenting her recovery and efforts to walk again with prosthetics on her social media account. Her friends told PennLive she gave her blessing to post her name and a photo of her visiting her favorite bar, Sullivan’s Bar and Eatery in Erie, on Wednesday night, the day after a video of her empty wheelchair getting shoved down a flight of stairs there went viral.
The photo showed her in her damaged wheelchair at the top of the stairwell with her friend, and head of Sullivan’s security, Nate Sanders.
Benes (pronounced Bennis) began documenting her recovery from the car crash on TikTok on Aug. 17, when she explained it was the one-year-anniversary of the crash that ended up taking most of her left leg and part of her right leg.
She said she was driving home from a former boyfriend’s home when she left the road, and her vehicle hit a large rock. Her vehicle went airborne, landed on its roof and caught fire, she said in the video. She doesn’t independently remember the crash, but was told that’s what happened.
The front of her vehicle caught fire, burning her feet, and trapping her in the vehicle.
“Until firefighters got there and saved my life,” she said, adding that firefighters and first responders do not get the recognition they deserve.
A helicopter ambulance transferred her to a burn unit at a Pittsburgh hospital because she sustained burns over one-third of her body, nearly everything from the waist-down.
Benes immediately lost both of her feet, she said in her video. But then an infection from the crash took hold, prompting the amputation of both her legs.
Since the crash, Benes has used a wheelchair to get around. It was that wheelchair that got shoved down a flight of stairs Saturday night when she was using the restroom. Carson Briere, 23, a Mercyhurst hockey player and son of Philadelphia Flyers General Manager Danny Briere, apologized for pushing the wheelchair down the stairs Wednesday after the video spread. The other two student athletes suspended in connection with the incident have not been publicly identified.
In addition to the school’s investigation, Erie police said they are also conducting a criminal investigation.
Benes explained that she started documenting her recovery on TikTok last year to let others with disabilities or recovering from amputations that “they are not alone,” and should be “treated like everyone else.”
Life without legs is different, she said in another video. Just getting in and out of bed, using the restroom or taking a bath is “ten times harder,” she said.
She can no longer dance or play soccer, things she formerly enjoyed. But she started coaching her younger brother’s grade-school soccer team, which has been “amazing,” she said, adding that people should not underestimate others with disabilities.
Sydney misses driving and hopes to one day get back on the road in a vehicle outfitted with hand controls. She’s also working extra hard on balance and using a prosthetic leg for her right leg. She was waiting for swelling to go down from surgery on her left leg before she can be outfitted with prosthetics for that leg.
“I’m excited to get back on the road,” she said, adding that the independence that provides can be taken for granted. “I can’t wait to get my life back.”
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