LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky high school football coach was charged Thursday with reckless homicide in the death of a player who collapsed during a sweltering practice in a rare criminal case against a coach in a heat death.
A grand jury indicted David Jason Stinson in the death of Pleasure Ridge Park offensive lineman Max Gilpin. Stinson, in his first year as head coach at the Louisville school, was directing practice on Aug. 20 when the heat index reached 94 degrees and the 15-year-old sophomore collapsed and had trouble breathing.
The player had a temperature of 107 degrees when he arrived at the hospital, authorities said, and died three days later. No autopsy was performed, but it appeared Gilpin died from complications from heat stroke, according to the coroner's office.
Assistant coach Steve Deacon called 911 and told a dispatcher that Gilpin was semiconscious and that his father was nearby, according to a transcript of the call.
"He's just overheated ... and we've got water on him ... he's responsive and he's got a big rapid pulse but ..." Deacon said. "... He keeps going ... yeah he's awake ... we're trying to get him to open his eyes right now ... he's got a rapid pulse."
In the background, someone is urging Gilpin: "Come on get them eyes open ... keep them eyes open ... there you go ... get them eyes all the way up ... get them eyes open ... there you go."
Heat exposure deaths happen occasionally in all levels of football, with the most famous example being Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer in 2001. The cases have led to numerous lawsuits, however, no evidence can be found that a coach has ever been charged in the deaths.
The reckless homicide charge means grand jurors didn't find that Stinson's actions intentional or malicious, said Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel, but that "a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred."
Stinson's attorney, Alex Dathorne, told The Associated Press that the coach maintains his innocence and looks forward to "bringing out the whole story."
"We're certainly disappointed in the grand jury's decision to indict," Dathorne said.
Stinson spent his first three years at Pleasure Ridge Park as an assistant football coach, before taking over last season and going 4-4. A school spokeswoman says he has been reassigned pending the outcome of the case. Stinson will surrender Monday at his arraignment and likely will remain free pending trial, Stengel said.
Attorneys representing Gilpin's divorced parents, Michele Crockett and Jeff Gilpin, said in a statement that the school system and high school haven't provided information on the player's death to the family.
"But what we have learned about the coaches' conduct at the football practice that led to Max's collapse and death is inexcusable, as was the lack of urgency and the delay in seeking medical treatment after Max collapsed and never regained consciousness," the statement from attorneys Todd Thompson and Mike Cooper said.
Gilpin's parents sued Stinson and five assistant coaches in state court accusing them of negligence and "reckless disregard." The five assistants were not charged in the indictment, and Stengel said they didn't commit a crime.
From 1960 through 2007, there were 114 heat stroke cases that resulted in death on all levels of football from sandlot to the pros, according to a report compiled by Dr. Frederick Mueller at the University of North Carolina for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2008.
From 2003-07, he attributed 16 deaths to heat stroke, and both cases in 2007 were in high school. A report on the past season wasn't included and Mueller did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon.
Along with the lawsuit and criminal investigation, the school system has been looking into the case, but the results have not been released.
Stinson asked to testify in front of the grand jurors but they declined to hear him, only listening to testimony from a Louisville Metro Police detective, Stengel said.