Posted on January 23, 2009 · Posted in Brain Injury

Date: 1/23/2009

Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A high school football coach should have realized a player could collapse from heat stroke in the broiling weather during practice, a prosecutor said in announcing reckless homicide charges in a youth’s death.

A grand jury indicted David Jason Stinson on Thursday in the death of Max Gilpin, 15, a sophomore offensive lineman at Louisville’s Pleasure Ridge Park High School. It was Stinson’s first year as head coach when the player collapsed and had trouble breathing.

Heat exposure deaths happen occasionally in football from the sandlot to the pros, the most famous example being Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer in 2001. Lawsuits have been filed in many of those cases, but no evidence can be found that a coach has ever been charged in the deaths.

The heat index, used to measure how hot it feels based on temperature and humidity, reached 94 degrees during the Aug. 20 practice. Gilpin’s temperature reached 107 degrees at the hospital, authorities said. He died three days later.

No autopsy was performed, but the coroner’s office said it appeared Gilpin died of complications from heat stroke.

From 1960 through 2007, there were 114 heat stroke cases in all levels of football that resulted in death, according to a report compiled by Dr. Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2008.

He attributed 16 deaths to heat stroke from 2003 to 2007, and both cases in 2007 were in high school. A report on the past season wasn’t included, and Mueller did not return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.

Assistant coach Steve Deacon called 911 and told a dispatcher that Gilpin was semiconscious and that his father was nearby, according to a transcript of the call.

“He’s just overheated … and we’ve got water on him … he’s responsive and he’s got a big rapid pulse but …” Deacon said.

In the background, someone is urging Gilpin: “Come on get them eyes open … keep them eyes open … there you go … get them eyes all the way up … get them eyes open … there you go.”

The reckless homicide charge means grand jurors didn’t find that Stinson’s actions were intentional or malicious, said Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel, but that “a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred.”

The grand jury declined to hear Stinson testify, listening only to a Louisville Metro Police detective, Stengel said.

Gilpin’s parents sued Stinson and five assistant coaches in state court accusing them of negligence and “reckless disregard.” The five assistants were not charged in the indictment, and Stengel said they didn’t commit a crime.

Stinson’s attorney, Alex Dathorne, told The Associated Press that the coach maintains his innocence and looks forward to “bringing out the whole story.”

Stinson spent his first three years at Pleasure Ridge Park as an assistant football coach, before taking over last season and going 4-4. A school spokeswoman said he has been reassigned pending the outcome of the case. The school has been investigating but has not released results.

Stinson will surrender Monday at his arraignment and likely will remain free pending trial, Stengel said.

Attorneys representing Gilpin’s divorced parents, Michele Crockett and Jeff Gilpin, said in a statement that the school system and high school haven’t provided information on the player’s death to the family.

“But what we have learned about the coaches’ conduct at the football practice that led to Max’s collapse and death is inexcusable, as was the lack of urgency and the delay in seeking medical treatment after Max collapsed and never regained consciousness,” the statement from attorneys Todd Thompson and Mike Cooper said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447