Little Leaguer who cracked skull falling from bunk bed slowly recovers

Against steep odds, the Little League team representing Utah in the Western Regionals two weeks ago again included a member of the Oliverson family — this time Brogan.

A year ago it was older brother Easton Oliverson, whose team won the regional title and advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., the dream of just about every bat and glove wielding 12-year-old.

But Easton instead went through what his father, Jace, called “our worst nightmare” when two days before the first game he fell from a top bunk bed in the dormitories where teams stay and fractured his skull. Easton had three head surgeries and, his father said, will suffer residual effects of the injuries for the rest of his life.

Easton Oliverson, left, and his father, Jace Oliverson, admire the Don Drysdale-signed bat that Frank Randazzo is holding.

Easton Oliverson, left, and his father, Jace Oliverson, admire the Don Drysdale-signed bat that Frank Randazzo is holding in his Utah home. Oxnard resident Buddy Salinas sent the bat to Randazzo to give to Easton.

(Frank and Angela Randazzo)

Easton has been comforted by an outpouring of support, including a tweet from Dodgers’ Mookie Betts and an extraordinary campaign from Buddy Salinas, an Oxnard man who has devoted his life since miraculously overcoming life-threatening liver, kidney and bladder problems to helping people in need.

Salinas, the subject of a Times feature story when he delivered a baseball signed by the 1963 Milwaukee Braves to former Oxnard High and Braves pitcher Denny Lemaster in 2021, rounded up memorabilia for Easton including a bat signed by Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale and a ball signed by St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado. He also attached a huge banner to a forklift in the Oxnard Power Machinery Center adjacent to the Ventura Freeway that asked for thoughts and prayers to Team Easton.

Betts jumped on camera and said, “Hey, Easton, it’s Mookie Betts. I just want you to know that we are praying for you, thinking for you, you and I hope to see you soon, my man.”

But Easton’s recovery has been as agonizing as it has been measured.

“He can dress and do things, but he’ll never be the World Series player he once was,” Jace said in an interview with The Times.

Brogan Oliverson’s experience at the Western Regional in San Bernardino didn’t go as planned, either. Little League officials announced that because of “pending litigation,” the dormitories where players stayed for decades were closed because they contained bunk beds. Little League instead paid for hotel lodging, food and transportation for all players from the 12 teams.

The litigation? It is a civil suit filed in October by the Oliversons in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Little League and the manufacturer of the bunk beds in Williamsport, which did not have guardrails. The lawsuit states that Easton “has suffered in the past and will continue to suffer in the future, aches, pains, trauma, contusions, humiliation, embarrassment, suffering, disfigurement, and/or inconvenience.”

Many families at the Western Regionals hadn’t heard about Easton’s fall and near-fatal injuries. All they knew is that the players were deprived of staying in the dormitories and bonding 24/7 throughout the 10-day tournament.

The Oliversons felt uncomfortable.

“It was a crap show in San Bernardino,” Jace said. “They’ve had a full year to get safe and secure bunk beds or demo the dormitories and rebuild them. Instead, they spent $250,000 for hotels, food and transportation, telling everyone they are in litigation.

“It pinpointed attention on us when they had plenty of time to take care of it.”

Jace said his family got the cold shoulder from Little League officials.

“There had to be a gag order,” he said. “Out of all the people in San Bernardino, only two asked me how Easton was doing.”

Utah lost in the Western Region final and did not qualify for the World Series, which began Thursday and ends Sunday. Little League International announced before competition began that it had removed bunk beds from the dormitories — every player is sleeping on a ground-floor bed. Temporary measures were taken last year after Easton’s injury, but now it appears bunk beds will be barred from any Little League tournament facilities that house players.

That corrective action pleases the Oliversons, but Jace wonders why it took Little League so long. Discovery in the lawsuit indicates that at least a dozen players sustained injuries from bunk bed falls since 2005, and one player sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2019. A 2018 study found that an average of 36,000 injuries occurred each year from bunk bed falls, although most were by children ages 6 and under and young adults 18 to 21. Several manufacturers recalled bunk beds after the study was published.

The lawsuit has been amended several times to include additional information unearthed by Oliverson’s lawyers. They say accidents occurred in Little League bunk beds nearly every year from 2005 until 2022 “when it almost killed my kid,” Jace said. “It’s ridiculous how Little League swept this under the rug.”

The lack of guardrails is surprising considering how safety conscious Little League is regarding matters on the field. On-deck circles and headfirst slides were banned in 1996. Pitch limits are strictly enforced.

Asked for comment, Little League responded with an email that stated in part, “. . . in preparation for the 2023 Little League International Tournament, Little League decided to provide its participants with single, one-level beds for all of their player housing at each of its tournament locations, including those in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the dormitories can accommodate all 14 single beds.”

When the Oliverson’s lawsuit was filed, Little League president and CEO Stephen Keener said in a statement: “I remain devastated and heartbroken by what he has gone through and we, as an organization, will continue to work to ensure that the safety and well-being of all our players remains at the forefront of our priorities.”

Easton Oliverson is next to his dad Jace, who has a tablet with Buddy Salinas on it, and holding a banner with Frank Randazzo

Easton Oliverson, left, stands next to his father Jace, who holds up a tablet with Buddy Salinas on FaceTime, while holding an Oxnard Sunset Little League banner with Frank Randazzo in Utah.

(Angela and Frank Randazzo)

Easton was left to draw comfort from the likes of Salinas, who had a friend, Frank Randazzo, deliver the memorabilia and a personal letter of inspiration written by Salinas’ sister, Frances Berumen. Salinas watched on FaceTime as Easton opened the package at Randazzo’s home in Utah. It contained everything Salinas had assembled for him.

“It broke my heart when I heard about his injury,” Salinas said. “He and his dad were very appreciative, and to see the beautiful photo of his smile made it all worthwhile.”

Easton, 13, started eighth grade last week. His nickname is Tank, and his grandfather, Ray Oliverson, played football at Brigham Young University. His father said he’s a tough, resilient kid who someday hopes to return to the baseball field.

“I’m just grateful that he’s still alive because at first we were told his chance to live was negligible,” Jace said. “We feel very fortunate and we appreciate everyone who has reached out to us.”