WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The assistant football coach at a Kansas community college told officials a 300-pound defensive lineman who died of heatstroke after practice was “making a stressful moan” when he arrived to help, but rather than immediately dial 911 he called the head coach “for instruction to see how we wanted to handle the situation.”
That account and others from emails The Associated Press obtained through an open records request detail a chaotic nearly 30-minute period last August between when teammates found 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth in an alley outside his dorm and the arrival of paramedics, who struggled to reach him with a gurney.
“The fact that (the assistant coach) determined he was in visible distress was not enough for him to call 911 and get emergency help there immediately, I mean it is just mindboggling — just reckless disregard for this child’s life and it really disturbs me,” said Jill Greene, the attorney for Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram.
Greene provided the AP with copies of dispatch and emergency medical service records, hospital records, a coroner’s report and autopsy results from Bradforth’s death after the Aug. 1, 2018 , practice at Garden City Community College in western Kansas. The prominent program lost the junior college national championship game by 1 point last year after winning the title in 2016.
Bradforth was from Neptune, New Jersey, where the air is much thicker than in Garden City, which is about a half mile in elevation. The death happened on the first day of conditioning practice, when players were required to run 50-yard sprints 36 times.
“The whole way that they handled this is wrong and we need to change this,” Atkins-Ingram told the AP in an interview.
The assistant coach, Caleb Young, wrote in one email to university officials that while he was on the phone talking to head coach Jeff Sims, players were filling jugs and bottles from drinking fountains to pour water on Bradforth and attempt to make him drink.
Paramedics wrote that when they arrived Bradforth was wet, moaning and sitting slouched over with his head leaning on a building. The paramedics’ report noted coaches had made all the players go back to their rooms “so any witness(es), if any, were not present at this time.”
As emergency workers loaded him onto the stretcher, Bradforth began to choke, opened his eyes and threw up what looked like “dirty motor oil,” Young wrote. Bradforth arrived at the hospital at 10:33 p.m. in critical condition. He died at 11:06 p.m., hospital records show.
E. Randy Eichner, a former team physician and professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Oklahoma has researched deaths of football players for 30 years, said Bradforth’s was one of the most egregious he has seen. Had Bradforth been put in a tub of iced water when he got off the field, he would have walked home in good health and played the next day, Eichner said.
“They did a lot wrong,” Eichner said.
The death was ruled an exertional heat stroke. Eichner said heat stroke has killed more than 40 high school football players and at least 10 college players since 2000.
College officials did not directly respond to the AP’s questions about the emails. Instead, they re-sent a previous written statement noting they authorized an independent investigation and saying they are “aware of the misconception that the college is unwilling to give answers to the family or has interfered with information about the events that transpired on the day of Braeden’s death.”
Under pressure from Bradforth’s family and the New Jersey congressional delegation , the college hired independent investigators to review the case, including the firm that was brought in by the University of Maryland after the heatstroke death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair after a workout last year.
The emails and documents the AP reviewed showed the internal review the college released last month under mounting pressure mostly regurgitated Young’s statement from August. Notably, the college did not include in its publicly released internal review several details that call into question the coaches’ handling of the situation, such the assistant coach immediately recognizing when he got to the scene that the collapsed player was “in visible distress … and making a stressful moan.”
Young’s email says Bradforth did not show signs of distress during the conditioning or immediately after it ended at 9:05 p.m., but he stumbled as they were walking from the football field toward a team meeting in a nearby building. Young describes being interested in getting the last straggling players, including Bradforth, to the meeting on time. He wrote that he told Bradforth, “Hey, you’re good. Let’s go,” to which Bradforth responded, “Yeah, I’m good. I’m good.”
Soon, however, Bradforth started walking toward his dorm, and Young asked him if he was quitting the team. Bradforth didn’t respond verbally but shook his head. Young said he went to the team meeting and told a coach that Bradforth had quit.
After the team meeting ended, one of the athletes tapped Young on the shoulder to tell him another player had passed out outside. Young wrote that he ran to the alley where he found Bradforth, and immediately called Sims for instruction.
Sims told Young to call the athletic trainer, T.J.Horton, who came to the scene and attempted to get Bradforth to respond. Horton called 911 at 10:01 p.m., around 25 minutes after players first found him on the ground, dispatch records show.
Sims has since been hired as head coach at Missouri Southern State, a Division II school closer to his native St. Louis.
The responding ambulance crew was unable to get a gurney into the narrow alley where he was found. Instead, paramedics and coaches carried Bradforth to the gurney on a stretcher.
Atkins-Ingram said she still has many questions about what happened after that, before her son died.
“Did anybody ride in the ambulance with him? Was he able to even ask for me?” his mother said. “I don’t know any of those details and it may not be important to anybody else, but they are very important to me … I deserve to know about my son’s last moments.”