By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The 13-year-old girl hit by a puck at an NHL game died from a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back, a coroner said Wednesday.

Brittanie Cecil died Monday, two days after she was struck in the forehead by the puck at a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.

The damage to the artery, which runs from the spine to the back of the brain, led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain, said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis, who performed the autopsy. He said the artery also might have been slightly torn.

"The puck struck her in the forehead, causing a skull fracture and some bruising of the brain in the area," Lewis said. "But that wasn't what led to her death. It was the snapping back of the head and the damage to that artery."

Lewis said he consulted with other pathologists on the rarity of the injury. He said that a fellow pathologist had not encountered a similar injury and death in more than 25 years as a doctor.

The eighth-grader at Twin Valley South Middle School near Dayton had been at Children's Hospital in Columbus since being hurt and died there late Monday afternoon. She remained conscious until Monday morning, Lewis said.

She was sitting about 15 rows above the ice and behind the goal when the puck, 6 ounces of hard, frozen rubber, came flying into the stands after Columbus center Espen Knutsen's slap shot. The puck, which can travel over 100 mph on slap shots, appeared to be deflected and hit two other fans sitting near Brittanie.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)