On Tuesday night, the Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team held an amateur taco-eating contest during the third inning of their game against the Memphis Redbirds. Seven minutes into the competition, 41-year-old Dana Andrew Hutchings collapsed.
Both the team's medical staff and local paramedics began treating him immediately, and he was transported by ambulance from Chukchansi Park to Community Regional Medical Center. He was pronounced dead shortly after he arrived at the hospital. An autopsy has been scheduled for Thursday, but some spectators who watched the contest believe that he could've choked while trying to down as many tacos as he could. "We have that as a starting point," Fresno County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Tony Botti told ABC 30. MUNCHIES has reached out to the Sheriff for an incident report, and will update if we hear back.
According to other fans who spoke to Hutchings during the game, he knew that he would be taking part in the contest, and he had planned accordingly. "He said he [...] has been not eating all day to make himself a winner," Grizzlies fan Eric Schmidt told the station. "He was winning. I mean, he was hungry, you could tell."
Another spectator echoed Schmidt's sentiments. "[H]e was eating so fast compared to the other two [contestants]," Matthew Boylan told the Fresno Bee. “It was like he’d never eaten before. He was just shoving the tacos down his mouth without chewing."
"We are devastated to learn that the fan that received medical attention following an event at Tuesday evening's game has passed away," Fresno Grizzlies President Derek Franks said in a statement. "The Fresno Grizzlies extend our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the family of Mr. Hutchings. The safety and security of our fans is our highest priority. We will work closely with local authorities and provide any helpful information that is requested."
The Fresno Grizzlies have worn taco-themed uniforms since the 2015 season, and play each Tuesday night home game as the Fresno Tacos, to correspond with the stadium's season-long Taco Tuesday promotions. They appeared as the Fresno Tacos on Tuesday night, and have one more Tuesday night home game left this year; MUNCHIES has reached out to the Grizzlies to determine whether they will wear the Tacos uniforms following Hutchings' death.
On Wednesday, the team announced that its 9th Annual Taco Truck Showdown—which includes appearances from 30 different taco trucks—would still be held on this weekend, but they have decided to cancel the World Taco Eating Championship that was scheduled to be a part of the event. The Grizzlies did continue to use the #TacoTuesday hashtag as it reported in-game events on Tuesday night—even the ones that occurred after some in attendance watched Hutchings collapse.
Hutchings is far from being the first person—amateur or professional—to die during a competitive eating contest. In March 2017, 20-year-old Caitlin Nelson died during a pancake-eating contest that was held on-campus at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. Her family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, alleging that it failed to have adequate medical personnel on-site during the school-sanctioned event.
"Caitlin’s family is bringing this case to expose the dangers associated with amateur eating contests and to help prevent other families from having to endure this type of preventable tragedy,” their attorney told the Associated Press. (In a response to the lawsuit, an attorney for Sacred Heart wrote that Nelson's death "was caused in whole or in part by [her] own carelessness and negligence.")
On its FresnoTacos.com website, the team wrote, "you can’t talk Fresno without talking Triple-A baseball and taco trucks." After Hutchings' death, that may, tragically, be true.