Two basketball coaches from Clayton County, Georgia, have been charged with murder in connection with the death of one of their 16-year-old players.
In August 2019, Imani Bell was performing a grueling training session in 97-degree heat with her high school basketball team when she collapsed and died. The extreme heat caused her to suffer a heart attack, which also left her with hyperthermia and rhabdomyolysis, according to an autopsy report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation cited by 11ALIVE.
The incident took place two years ago but due to the pandemic, the Elite Scholars Academy’s coach Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and assistant coach Dwight Broom Palmer, who were supervising Imani's training, were only charged Wednesday with murder, cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct.
"Today is a bittersweet day for the family," Imani’s father, Eric Bell, said Wednesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It’s just a time of grieving."
In February, Imani's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the coaches and athletics director, 11ALIVE reported. The lawsuit alleges that, although a heat advisory had been issued for the area, the school and supervised coaches continued with outdoor basketball practice.
"Due to the extreme heat and humidity outside, Imani began experiencing early signs of heat illness and was visibly struggling to physically perform the outdoor conditioning drills Defendants directed her to perform," the lawsuit reads. "Defendants 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."
Imani collapsed during the practice and lost consciousness. She was taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead later that evening.
The Journal-Constitution reported that Imani's school district states that, in the event that temperatures exceed 95 degrees, all outdoor practices should be suspended. Kevin May, the district-wide athletic director for Clayton County Public Schools, said in an email issued at the time that all coaches were to ensure they were following all Georgia High School Association guidelines regarding heat policies, adding that "the safety of our student-athletes and coaches are our first priority."
Speaking during a news conference Wednesday, Eric said he was glad that the coaches were finally being held responsible for what happened to his daughter.
"It’s just a tragedy that happened with Imani," he said, according to WSBTV reported. "It should not have happened. We’re just glad the coaches are held accountable."
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