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Coaches charged with murder after student died of heat stroke

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Two Atlanta-area high school coaches are facing murder charges after one of their players died of a heat stroke during conditioning drills. Now, coaches who push kids hard in the heat are on notice.

Imani Bell, a standout student-athlete who wore number 23, loved basketball. On August 13, 2019, the 16-year-old junior died during conditioning drills. Coaches at Elite Scholar Academy ran an outdoor team practice, despite a heat index as high as 103.

“Gut-wrenching. Heartbreaking. How could this happen?” said her father, Eric Bell. He said E.R. doctors revived his daughter twice.

“The body was so hot that it went right back into cardiac arrest,” Eric Bell said. “I was actually in the room, and you know, that’s not a memory I’ll ever forget.”

Charges against the teen’s two high school coaches, Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer, include second-degree murder, cruelty to children and involuntary manslaughter.

According to the grand jury indictment, the defendants caused “excessive physical pain by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student-athletes in dangerous heat,” CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports.  

Roughly an hour into practice, Bell struggled climbing stadium stairs. The autopsy says that, rather than get her help, one coach “may have physically assisted her up the stairs.”

Bell’s parents filed a lawsuit earlier this year, alleging the coaches “observed Imani experiencing early signs of heat illness during the outdoor practice but nevertheless directed Imani to continue performing the conditioning drills with her team and directed Imani to run up the stadium steps,” WGCL reports.    

The autopsy said she died of hyperthermia —  heat stroke.

“There were rules that were broken from start to finish,” said Justin Miller, an attorney representing Bell’s family, who are now suing Clayton County, Georgia. An hour before those conditioning drills, the county warned all its schools: “…Heat Advisory… No sports or clubs should be outside.”

“There’s no trainer to help her,” Miller said. “There’s no ice baths to put her in. There is now way to help her at that time.”

Bell’s father also coaches high school basketball. He sees a message in these murder charges to coaches everywhere. “Every child that you coach, treat them like your own,” Eric Bell said.

Now, pushing athletes like Bell beyond reason could put coaches behind bars.


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