Parents of student-athlete who died of heatstroke after training to get $10M settlement

Francis Akhalbey December 01, 2022
16-year-old Imani Bell died after suffering a heatstroke during a practice session -- Photos via Bell family

The parents of Imani Bell, the 16-year-old Georgia high school basketball athlete who died after suffering a heatstroke during a training session in August 2019, have reached a $10 million settlement with the school district. As previously reported by Face2Face Africa, Imani, then a junior at Elite Scholars Academy, was partaking in a girls’ basketball team practice session in extremely high temperatures when she collapsed and later died.

Imani’s parents announced the settlement on Tuesday, CBS News reported. And court documents reveal both parties settled the suit in October. Per the details of the agreement, the Clayton County school system will rename the Elite Scholars Academy gymnasium after Imani. The lawyers representing her family said that a ceremony to mark the renaming of the gymnasium had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday.

And though Imani’s father, Eric Bell, described the renaming as a “great honor”, he labeled the settlement as “bittersweet.” “We’d trade everything to have her back here with us,” he told the news outlet. In the wake of Imani’s death, her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in February last year, NBC News reported. The suit stated that Imani 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 Imani was instructed to still go ahead with the training.

The suit also alleged that during the practice, Imani 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. 

Imani 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 Imani 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 Imani’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.

“Gut-wrenching. Heartbreaking. How could this happen?” Bell told CBS News last year. The deceased teen’s father also said her daughter had to be revived twice by ER doctors. “The body was so hot that it went right back into cardiac arrest,” Bell said. “I was actually in the room, and you know, that’s not a memory I’ll ever forget.”

In the wake of Imani’s death, two coaches who oversaw the training – Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer – were indicted by a Clayton County grand jury, Face2Face Africa reported. The charges brought against the coaches include second-degree murder, second-degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct. The case is currently in progress.

Responding to the settlement, an attorney for the family, L. Chris Stewart, said “it sends a nationwide message to every school district and every athletic program … that the lives of our children matter over athletics, and every district needs to realize that no child should die from heat exhaustion.” “We salute Clayton County for sending that message nationwide,” Stewart added.

A foundation for the deceased teen – the Keep Imani Foundation – has since been set up by her family. Their lawyers said the foundation will be partly funded with the money from the settlement, CBS News reported. Bell also said the foundation will grant students scholarships and assist schools to obtain cold tubs that would save students from suffering heatstroke-related deaths.

“Keep educating coaches, keep educating students about the dangers of heat and humidity, and try to be prepared for a situation like this,” Bell said in his message to school officials.

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