Fun and games can become a precarious experience. Yes, even life and death. Consider what happened to Charles Joseph Lusco. Little wonder his best friends continue referring to him as "Lucky" Lusco. He was involved in the Memorial Stadium escalator accident that killed a schoolmate and injured 48 children in 1964 and, a week ago, was only minutes removed from the moving stairway at Oriole Park when another malfunction occurred.
"Lucky" Lusco felt as if a serious moment in his life was being replayed. Both times it was a narrow escape. And in between 1964 and 1994 there was, fortunately, another near-miss. He left a football game, the 1976 playoff game between the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, at Memorial Stadium when pilot Donald Kroner crashed an airplane into the upper deck at a location where Lusco had earlier been seated.
His recollections of the incidents give reason for "Lucky" to pause and give thanks. "I never stop telling God how appreciative I am for being spared," he says. "In 1964 when my best friend, Al Constantine, lost his sister, Annette, when we were going to a baseball game, is something that I'll never forget. You can't put that out of your mind."
It was, ironically, "Safety Patrol Day," an occasion when the Orioles rewarded children for their role in helping supervise street intersections both before and after classes. Lusco, then a 12-year-old at St. Dominic's School, was on the escalator when the pileup occurred.
"Had I not jumped over the side of the escalator that day, I also may have been killed or injured," he remembers. "I believed the escalator was moving too fast. A friend, Mike Furman and his father, helped me push away a 'wooden horse,' which temporarily blocked the exit at the top of the escalator, where the children were piling up as the moving steps deposited them there."
As for what happened before the latest escalator accident, Lusco offers the opinion the vehicle "might have been too crowded." Earlier in the season, he rode the same escalator at a time when only a limited number of riders were allowed to climb on board. Then, when they arrived at the top, others followed so the passenger load was restricted.
"I went to the June 18 Oriole game with Minnesota," he explained, "I was with my son Jason. We rode the escalator and then went to our seats in section 326. In about four minutes some fans came in talking about what had just happened and, about that time, we heard the ambulance sirens. We went out to see what took place. We didn't go down the ramp to actually see the aftermath but I thought to myself, 'Here we go again.' "
Lusco doesn't claim expertise in the field of escalator travel or surveying crash scenes. Now 42, he's a system technician for Blue Cross and Blue Shield. It's mere coincidence that Baltimore has experienced two serious escalator problems in two different stadiums, 30 years apart, but he was close to them each time.
"Nothing could compare to when Annette lost her life. She was from a great family. Her brother, Al, went through West Point and the last time I heard about him, just a couple of years ago, he was an army captain and doing some great things. That day at Memorial Stadium in 1964, with so many injuries, the area looked like a war zone."
Then he thinks, too, of the airplane "pan-caking" into the top deck, the south end zone of Memorial Stadium in 1976. It was fortunate, from the standpoint of what could have been a tragic circumstance, that the Colts were stampeded by the Steelers and the outcome was seemingly never in doubt -- which is why there was an early exodus from the stadium. He had tickets in section 41, row 21, only a few feet from where the plane came down.
"Had the Colts won that day, instead of losing the way they did [40-14], I probably would have still been in my seat. I always waited around after the games until most of the crowd had left. I tremble when I think of what a disaster that could have been if the game has been close and the fans had remained in the stands until it was all over. Just amazing no one was hurt. And I don't think the pilot had any more than minor injuries."
As it was, the plane lodged in the stadium seats, resembling a fallen sparrow, toppling from the sky. It became a page one picture in newspapers around the world. Lusco keeps thinking how fortunate he has been to have been caught in one escalator pileup, a second one that he missed by minutes and, of course, avoiding a bizarre air crash only because the football game had become too one-sided.
"Lucky" Lusco, obviously, was born under a lucky star.