Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
It’s apparently never happened before – a high school football player dies of heat stroke and his coach is indicted for “Reckless Homicide.” While about 5-6 kids a year die from heat stroke in a football environment, this is the first time a coach has been criminally indicted.
On August 20, 2008, in Louisville, Kentucky, Pleasure Ridge Park High School (“PRP”) was holding a football practice. The heat index (temperature plus humidity) had reached 94. According to some reports, parents at a nearby girls’ soccer game heard head coach David Jason Stinson yelling at his players that he wouldn’t give them water, that they shouldn’t ask for water, that he would tell them when they could have water. Reports from alleged witnesses also state that the coach said that the players would run “gassers” (wind sprints, suicides) until somebody quit the team. Witnesses also said that a boy, senior Antonio Calloway, had collapsed and was taken to the sidelines.
A few minutes later, 6’2’, 220 lb. sophomore Max Gilpin, whose father was watching from a distance, went to his knees and collapsed on the practice field. PRP’s athletic director, Craig Webb, saw the whole thing unfold from a distance (he was at the soccer game) and got in his car (a Gator) and drove over to the 15-year-old Gilpin. While the timing of virtually everything is in dispute, two parents lifted Max Gilpin on to the Gator and he was driven over by the athletic director to the water station near the practice field. Once there, according to the athletic director’s deposition testimony (in a pending civil suit), a parent disconnected the hose to the watering system and started to shower Max from the back of his neck down over his body.
According to the AD, Max was sweating profusely and moaning. Max’s legs were elevated over the Gator while he was being hosed down. Eventually, an ice pack was brought over and placed on the back of Max’s neck. The athletic director then told Max’s father to take his son’s shoes and socks off (Max had no shirt on when he collapsed). Apparently a 911 call was made while Max was being hosed down at the watering station.
Eventually (the timing is an issue), an ambulance came to pick up Max but there was a delay in leaving as a discussion ensued as to whether the ambulance should take Antonio Calloway as well (the boy who had collapsed earlier). Eventually, both were taken to the hospital in the same ambulance.
Two days later, Antonio Calloway was released from the hospital and went home.
The next day, Max Gilpin died.
THE CIVIL SUIT AND THE CRIMINAL INDICTMENT
Max Gilpin’s parents, in the fall of 2008, filed a civil suit against head coach David Jason Stinson and all five assistant coaches of the PRP football team for negligence and reckless disregard. The suit has been proceeding with discovery and the deposition of the athletic director, Craig Webb, was taken on January 16, 2009. Coach Stinson’s deposition is scheduled for February 13, 2009.
In the interim, however, a Jefferson County grand jury decided to indict Coach Stinson for the Class D Felony of Reckless Homicide, which carries a penalty, if convicted, of one to five years in jail. In Jefferson County, Kentucky, a grand jury is made up of 12 people, nine of whom have to vote for indictment. While a defendant can request to testify before a grand jury in Kentucky, the grand jury does not have to hear his testimony if they don’t want to. Apparently, in this case, they didn’t want to as Coach Stinson wanted to testify and was not allowed to appear before the grand jury.
On January 23, 2009, the first football coach to be criminally indicted for a death on a football field was indicted in Jefferson County, Kentucky. Prosecutor David Stengel said that reckless homicide occurs when a “person fails to perceive a risk that a reasonable person in that situation would have seen” and that person’s actions (or, presumably, inactions) cause a death. Stengel was also quoted (by the Louisville Courier-Journal, which has covered the story from the get-go) as saying, “This is not about football. This is not about coaches. It’s about a trained adult who was in charge of the health and welfare of a child.”
DIFFERENT ALLEGATIONS SUPPORT ONE SIDE OR THE OTHER
There’s a lot here but, for purposes of this article, a list will be set forth below. It’s unclear as to what will be admissible in a civil trial and/or a criminal trial but here are facts reported either in the newspaper or elicited during the 251-page deposition of PRP athletic director Webb.
1) The athletic director never asked the coaching staff what happened that day. He eventually was told by the police not to talk to students or coaches but during the two-week or so time period between the August 20 practice and early September, he never made an inquiry into what happened;
2) Jeff Gilpin, Max’s father, stated to a local TV station that, based on what he saw at practice, he didn’t believe the coaches had done anything wrong. But after hearing all the facts (from other parents, etc.), he changed his mind.
3) Unbeknownst to the school or the coaches, Max Gilpin had been taking creatine, which apparently can contribute to something like heat stroke. The school did know that Max Gilpin was taking Adderal for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which also could have affected him that day.
4) The doctors told Max’s parents that no autopsy would be necessary or conducted and said the cause of his death was heat stroke.
5) When Max Gilpin collapsed, no coach immediately responded. The athletic director, a few parents and eventually Mr. Gilpin were the first ones to get to Max, load him on to the AD’s Gator and take him to the water station.
6) The coach was allowed to coach the whole season. It was his first year as the head coach after three years as an assistant.
7) Supposedly there is a player who did quit the team on August 20 during the “gassers”, allegedly to end the running drills. The plaintiff’s attorney in the civil suit stated his name during the AD’s deposition.
8) Apparently multiple e-mails exist from parents at the adjoining soccer game who claim that they heard the coach telling the football team that they couldn’t have water.
9) One teammate of Max’s appeared on CBS’s Early Morning show and stated that the team had a number of water breaks during the practice.
10) There are allegations that the heat index (of 94) was taken in the shade that day by the coaches because, under Kentucky High School Association Rules, if the heat index is 95, a new set of precautionary steps must be taken.
11) Coach Stinson was released on his own recognizance and must appear in court on March 20. He vehemently denies all of the charges and is looking forward to telling his side of the story.
12) A prayer vigil, with hundreds attending in 20 degree weather to support Coach Stinson, was held last Sunday, January 25, where Coach Stinson addressed the crowd and was devastated about what happened to his player.
13) Having said all of the above, there is a recent case in federal court (the 11th Circuit, which does not include Kentucky) where the court held that plaintiffs could not recover (in a section 1983 case for deprivation of rights of a student who died in similar circumstances to Max Gilpin) against a coach who had qualified immunity, according to the 11th Circuit. See Davis v. Carter, No. 08-10162, 11th Circuit, 1/23/09. This case will be looked into by Coach Stinson’s attorney.
14) It is being reported today (February 1, 2009) in the Louisville Courier-Journal that Coach Stinson, who played for Howard Schnellenberger at Louisville in the mid-1990s, told Max Gilpin’s mother at the hospital about how he (Stinson) played for Schnellenberger who had very strict water policies. Schnellenberger was sued in the late 1990s by a Louisville player who almost died due to lack of water (the case was later dismissed). In that case, according to the Courier-Journal, Schnellenberger cited his coaches (such as Paul “Bear” Bryant of Junction Boys fame) for his own strict water policies.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Coach Stinson is scheduled to be deposed in the civil suit on February 13. It’s hard to believe that his lawyers will let him testify in a civil case while under criminal indictment (remember, he tried to testify before the grand jury but, in Kentucky, the grand jury doesn’t have to allow him to testify before them).
The other defendants in the civil case, Stinson’s five assistants, were not indicted as they were found not to have committed any criminal act, according to prosecutor Stengel.
Coach Stinson returns to criminal court on March 20.
Clearly, there was enough evidence presented to a grand jury in Kentucky to indict this football coach. It’s very unfortunate (un-American?) that he was not allowed to testify before the grand jury. This is a close case depending on the believability of the witnesses and what they say under oath. This will come down to a jury decision (Stinson’s attorney has apparently stated that his client will not take a plea) and is a very close call. Was this the crazy, old-time coach who abused his players and pushed them too hard on the wrong day (after all, water wasn’t even allowed in practices all over the country in the 1970s and before)? Or was this a hard-working coach trying to build his team towards a successful season and, rarely but sometimes, these tragic “incidents” happen?
It will be up to a jury to decide.
© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.