A Clayton County grand jury has indicted two high school basketball coaches with murder in connection with a case involving a 16-year-old student-athlete who died after suffering a heat stroke while partaking in an outdoor practice. The incident occurred in August 2019.
According to NBC News, Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer were overseeing the Elite Scholars Academy girls’ basketball team in a practice session in extremely high temperatures when student-athlete Imani Bell collapsed and later died.
Walker-Asekere was the basketball team’s head coach while Palmer was the assistant, the family attorney for the deceased teenager said. The two coaches are facing a slew of charges including second-degree murder, second-degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
Following the incident, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by Bell’s family in February. The suit stated that Bell was participating in a conditioning drill with her teammates when she collapsed. Prior to that, the suit stated that the deceased teen was “experiencing early signs of heat illness and was visibly struggling to physically perform the outdoor conditioning drills.” Despite the signs, the suit said Bell was instructed to still go ahead with the training.
The suit also alleged that during the practice, Bell was having difficulties running up the steps of the stadium and she had to grab “onto the railing to remain upright.” “As Imani neared the top of the stadium steps, she suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness due to the extreme heat and humidity,” the lawsuit added, per NBC News.
Bell was subsequently taken indoors by officials of the school and paramedics were called. The teen was transported to the hospital where she succumbed to heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure. An autopsy that was carried out on Bell by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined she died from heatstroke as a result of intense physical activity in extreme heat.
The lawsuit said that on the day of Bell’s death, the heat index around the area her school is located was over 100 degrees and there was a heat advisory in place. Besides that, the suit alleged the coaches making the students train under such temperatures flouted protocols the Georgia High School Association has prescribed. The organization is in charge of high school athletics in Georgia.
Per the organization’s policy, outdoor practices should not be allowed to go ahead if a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) reading is more than 92, NBC News reported. Unlike the heat index, the WBGT measures temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover. Officials are supposed to check the temperature 30 minutes prior to practice and also follow it up with hourly checks while practice is ongoing. But the two accused coaches did not check the temperature on the day Bell died during the practice session.
Bell’s father, who also coaches a school around the area her deceased daughter was enrolled, said he called off practice that day as he had checked the WBGT reading and determined it was unsafe.
“The incident in question did not have to happen,” the family’s attorney, Justin Miller, said Wednesday after the charges were brought against Walker-Asekere and Palmer.