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High School Basketball Coaches Charged With Murder After Heat-Related Death Of Teen Player

High School Basketball Coaches Charged With Murder After Heat-Related Death Of Teen Player
Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys

Imani Bell was a student at Elite Scholars Academy in Georgia who would have been in college today and starting life as an adult.

But in August 2019, the 16-year-old suddenly collapsed and died from heatstroke during a basketball practice outdoors in nearly 100-degree heat.

Her coaches are now facing murder charges relating to her death.

Just days before the second anniversary of her passing, a grand jury in Clayton County, Georgia, quietly indicted LaRosa Maria Walker-Asekere—the school's head basketball coach, and Dwight Broom Palmer, the assistant basketball coach.

Both coaches were charged with second-degree murder, second-degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct, according to court documents in an announcement made on Wednesday.

You can watch a news report here.

The girl's father, Eric Bell, said at a press conference that the charges were "bittersweet."

"It doesn't get any easier. Not at all." he added.

Bell was a junior and played on the girls basketball team at the school in the Clayton County Public School System.

Her family's attorneys had indicated the temperature during the practice was between 96 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat index put the temperature at between 101 and 106 degrees.

When Bell's family filed a wrongful death suit and named Asekere as the head coach of the girls basketball team at the school, Asekere's attorneys said:

"[Asekere] was on her first day as coach of the girls basketball team, and she was relying on the direction of the athletic director and Elite Scholars Academy personnel to conduct this conditioning activity."

Justin Miller, who is the family's attorney and Bell's cousin, disagreed with that defense, saying:

"For the answer to be 'hey listen. This is my first day, so therefore, I made the mistake that killed your child,' is ridiculous."

Palmer was also named in the wrongful death suit filed by the family.

Bell's attorneys said the school approved the outdoor basketball practice and was supervised by the coaches despite a heat advisory in the area where the school was located.

Bell's father, who is a coach at another school in the area, said he canceled his own practices because of the extreme heat.

His attorneys mentioned that a district-wide policy requires outdoor athletic activities to be suspended when the heat index hits 95 degrees.

The lawsuit read in part:

"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."
"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."

Bell had no underlying health issues that may have contributed to her death.

She suddenly collapsed while running up and down the football stadium's steps and lost consciousness.

She was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead later that evening.

An autopsy report filed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations determined that her death was "solely attributable to heatstroke caused by strenuous physical exertion in extreme temperatures."

During Wednesday's press conference, Bell's attorney commented on the misguided priorities of a child's well-being.

Said Miller:

"You have coaches who want to win more than take care of our children. Imani was listening to the authority figure, like her father taught her, and this is what happened."

A spokesperson for Clayton County Schools declined to comment on the employment status of both coaches in light of the indictment charges.

The news station said Palmer and Asekere were booked into the Clayton County jail, granted $75,000 bonds, and are currently released.