ORLANDO, Fla. – A former University of Central Florida wide receiver testified on Monday that teammate Ereck Plancher gasped for breath, fell to his knees as his eyes rolled back into his head and struggled before collapsing during his final workout.
Anthony Davis said that UCF coach George O'Leary ordered all water and trainers out of the indoor fieldhouse during the practice on March 18, 2008. He also testified during the wrongful death trial in Orlando that the coach was yelling obscenities at Plancher as he told him to get up after falling during an obstacle course drill.
Plancher's parents say in the wrongful death lawsuit that the UCF Athletics Association is responsible for their son's death. They are trying to prove that coaches pushed him excessively at the practice despite knowing he had sickle cell trait.
Attorneys for athletic association said Plancher died from a congenital heart defect and that water and trainers were available during the workout.
Davis said he had to help the 19-year-old Plancher during one of the drills and also helped carry him off the field after his collapse. He described the workout that included weightlifting, conditioning exercises, an obstacle course and sprints as "intense."
The 25-year-old described O'Leary as angry when he ordered water and trainers off the field.
"He said it in a mean voice," Davis said. "He was mad and upset. It felt like he was punishing us because we didn't do the obstacle course right."
Attorneys for the school asked why Davis never mentioned that water and trainers were called off the field during a statement he gave a month after Plancher's death.
Davis said he was asked to tell his story and was not specifically asked about water or trainers. He also said that he felt intimidated while making the sworn statement because Manny Messenguer, a friend of O'Leary and a longtime UCF supporter, was in the room.
During the morning, Douglas Casa, a certified athletic trainer and director of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, testified that UCF trainers did not respond properly when Plancher was struggling. Trainer Robbie Jackson told Plancher to control his breathing and stand up straight because "the air is not down there."
"It was below the standard of care," Casa said.
Casa also said UCFAA did not follow National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines concerning athletes with sickle cell trait. He said that once Plancher tested positive for the trait he should have been counseled about the potential risks during physical exertion. Attorneys for UCFAA said Plancher was told he had the trait and counseled but there is no documentation of that happening.
An autopsy found that Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait, a condition that causes blood cells to become misshapen and disrupt the body's vascular system when it's put under extreme stress. Plancher went into cardiac arrest and later died at a hospital.
Also Monday, Judge Robert M. Evans agreed to the UCFAA attorney's request to take the jury on a site visit to tour the weight room and indoor practice facility. Attorneys for the Plancher family objected saying weather conditions could not be duplicated. The temperature was 72 degrees with 50 percent humidity the day Plancher died.
However, Evans said the tour was a reasonable request and a way for jurors to see the facility.