LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A former Kentucky high school football coach was found not guilty Thursday in the death of a player who collapsed at a practice where the team was put through a series of sprints on a hot summer day.
It was a rare criminal prosecution of a coach in a player's heat-related death. The jury reached a verdict after deliberating less than two hours.
Former coach David Jason Stinson, 37, was charged after 15-year-old Max Gilpin collapsed at an August 2008 practice as the team ran a series of sprints known as "gassers." He died three days later at a Louisville hospital of heat stroke, sepsis and multiple organ failure. His temperature reached at least 107 degrees.
Players said Stinson ordered the gassers as punishment for the lack of effort they showed at practice on a day where the temperature and heat index were both 94 degrees.
Prosecutors relied on a series of Gilpin's teammates who testified that several teens became ill during the gassers, vomiting or bowing out of the running with ailments.
Several medical and athletic training experts also testified for the prosecution, saying Gilpin suffered from exertional heat stroke, which led to his death. One witness, University of Connecticut associate professor Douglas Casa, said Gilpin could have been saved if he'd been immersed in ice water almost immediately after collapsing on the field.
Stinson's defense attorneys also relied on Pleasure Ridge Park players who testified that, while they ran sprints, there were only a few more than normal. Three of Gilpin's classmates, along with his stepmother, testified that Gilpin complained of not feeling well throughout the day he collapsed.
Defense medical experts told jurors that it appeared a combination of heat, the use of the dietary supplement creatine and attention deficit disorder drug Adderall, and being ill were the main factors that contributed to Gilpin's death, which they called an accident.
The medical experts also said little could have been done to save Gilpin because his temperature was so high for so long before he made it to the hospital and began cooling down.