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A grand jury in Clayton County, Georgia handed down indictments for two high school basketball coaches in the death of a student athlete who collapsed while doing outdoor conditioning drills on an extremely hot day in August 2019.
Imani Bell was a 16-year-old high school junior at the Elite Scholars Academy, a magnet charter school in Clayton County, Georgia, on August 13, 2019 when she attended a mandatory varsity girl's basketball practice to participate in conditioning drills under the supervision of head basketball coach Larosa Walker-Asekere and assistant coach Dwight Broom Palmer.
According to a lawsuit filed by her parents against the school, there was a heat advisory that day, the temperature was between 96 and 99 degrees and the heat index was over 100. Under those circumstances, guidelines issued by the school board and the Georgia High Schools Association (which were reiterated in an email from the Clayton County Public Schools athletic director the day before the practice provided by the Bells' attorneys to NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta) required that practices not be held outdoors.
Eric Bell coached girls basketball at a neighboring high school in 2019 and cancelled practice that day because of the heat index, according to "Good Morning America."
The basketball drills for the girls basketball team at Elite Scholars Academy, however, went ahead as scheduled — and outdoors. Imani Bell collapsed after running up a hill, performing jumping jacks, running back down a hill, running a quarter mile on the school track and then being told to run up the school stadium stairs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The newspaper reports that Bell had difficulty finishing the quarter mile and was pulling herself up the stairs by the railing, with some physical assistance from one of the coaches, when she lost consciousness.
When medics arrived at the school, Bell wasn't breathing and EMT's lost her pulse in the ambulance, according to WXIA in Atlanta; she was revived but ultimately died in the hospital. Her autopsy showed that she died of a heart attack brought on by extreme heat conditions. The grand jury indictment of her coaches indicates that Bell had also experienced rhabdomyolysis, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; rhabdo, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, "occurs when damaged muscle tissue releases its proteins and electrolytes into the blood" as a result of heat exposure, physical exertion or overuse, which can damage the heart and kidneys.
Walker-Asekere and Palmer were indicted by the grand jury on July 1, 2021 on charges of second degree murder, child cruelty in the second degree, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.
"They had rules and the rules weren't followed," Bell family attorney Justin Miller told GMA. "They had rules that would've helped her stay alive."
The charges against Walker-Asekere and Palmer represent the first time that coaches have faced criminal charges in the heat-related death of a student athlete.
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