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Montreal Marathon race director resigns in wake of death on the course

Dominique Piché, race director of the Oasis Rock n Roll Marathon, has stepped down after half-marathoner Patrick Neely, who later died in hospital, collapsed in cardiac arrest two kilometres from the finish line

Dominique Piché, race director of the Oasis Rock ‘n’ Roll Montreal Marathon as well as the Ironman Mont-Tremblant triathlon, has resigned from both events after the death of 24-year-old Patrick Neely near the finish line of the half-marathon on Sunday.

The race started at St-Urbain and boul. Réné-Levesque, following a course that runs northeast along Ontario Street for about 10K before looping back to the start/finish area along several streets a bit further west. According to various local news reports, Neely collapsed near the corner of Cherrier and St-Hubert streets, approximately two kilometres from the finish line, a little before 10:00 a.m. It was a particularly warm, humid day in Montreal, with temperatures well above the seasonal average for late September.

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Photo: Twitter

Start delay

The scheduled 7:10 a.m. start had been delayed for 50 minutes because the security company hired to staff the event did not have enough people to guard the barriers protecting runners from traffic and spectators, an issue Piché had been dealing with since the previous evening. (The fact that the course had been redesigned due to ongoing construction may have been a factor.) Piché, a former police officer, said later he could not start the race until he was satisfied the route was safe. Local police officers reportedly stepped in at the last minute to help solve the problem.

Bystanders began performing CPR while waiting for emergency crews, but Neely died the next day at Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal. According to Radio-Canada, Neely collapsed at 9:38 a.m. A witness on the scene, Josée Gagnon, claimed it took 20 to 25 minutes for emergency responders to arrive, and when she called 911 to find out why it was taking so long, she was told there had been no previous call. Emergency services, which has been staffing the race with medical professionals for many years, later claimed an ambulance was on the scene eight minutes after receiving the first (and only) 911 call at 9:55 a.m.

Dominique Piché. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon
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Piché apologized for the delayed start by going on live television two hours later, right around the time that, unbeknownst to him at the time, Neely was struggling for his life. According to a CBC report, Piché said, “I would never give the go-ahead if I don’t feel completely guaranteed that when they’re done they will have had a good experience, because they are all my children this weekend.”

A statement issued by the marathon organization on Monday said there were 50 defibrillators, more than 80 health professionals and eight ambulances at intervals along the course. The coroner is investigating Neely’s death.

Dominique Piché, former race director of the Montreal Marathon. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

It was the second time in a few months that Piché has dealt with a death at one of his events. In June, 46-year-old Jill Levy Morris of Florida was killed after being struck by a service vehicle during the bike portion of the Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant.

In his resignation letter, Piché, who has been producing sports events for 15 years, said he took full responsibility for the unfortunate events of last weekend, and that he felt he must show a willingness to demonstrate accountability, a quality he values highly.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series is owned by the Ironman organization, which is based in Florida.