The mother of the Paul Laurence Dunbar basketball player who collapsed and died in late April during an open gym session at the school has filed a wrongful death suit against the school’s coaches, athletic trainers and principal as well as the Fayette County Public Schools superintendent.
The complaint, filed on behalf of the estate of Star Ifeacho and his mother, Peace Ifeacho, argues that potential life-saving treatment for the 15-year-old was delayed because one of the school’s automated external defibrillator’s (AED) was not nearby. It also blames athletic trainer Cody Begley, stating his care “fell well below the appropriate standard of care for athletic trainers in same or similar circumstances.” And it argues 911 emergency responders should have been called immediately upon her son’s collapse.
Sheila P. Hiestand, Peace Ifeacho’s attorney, said Monday that Star’s “was a completely preventable death had they followed their own protocol.”
The suit also names athletic trainer Gabrielle Sombelon and accuses her of negligence for removing the AED from the training room to the baseball field, delaying its potential use. According to the suit, there were two AEDs at Dunbar. The other was in the front foyer of the school, the suit says.
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The athletic trainers were employed by the University of Kentucky and under contract to Fayette County Public Schools. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Monday the university's policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
Boys’ basketball head coach Scott Chalk, assistant coach Chris Armstrong, athletics director Donna Martin, principal Betsy Rains and superintendent Manny Caulk are also named in the suit and accused of failing to appropriately supervise and ensure appropriate standards were followed and care was given.
“We can’t comment on pending litigation,” Fayette County Public Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Monday afternoon.
Star Ifeacho, a sophomore, was taking part in an open gym session at the school on the afternoon of April 26.
Chalk said shortly after the incident that Ifeacho had complained of light-headedness earlier that day during a light workout at open gym. He went to the athletic trainer’s room and called his mother to pick him up. He collapsed in the presence of teammates and a trainer, who immediately began resuscitation efforts, according to Chalk.
The suit lays out a timetable of events that indicates Ifeacho called his mother about 4:19 p.m. He collapsed around 4:28 p.m. A 911 call was placed at 4:33 p.m. One of the AEDs was retrieved by a student from the front foyer about 4:44 p.m., according the the school’s video surveillance camera’s time-stamp. The AED’s time stamp for its first charge was slightly different, showing it was administered at 4:42.20 p.m.
A state medical examiner’s report obtained by the Herald-Leader through an open-records request said that Ifeacho died from cardiomyopathy of an unknown cause. Cardiomyopathy is an abnormality of the heart muscle. The report said the heart problem could have been inherited.
“In failing to properly train, review and implement the protocols, the defendants, individually and/or jointly, are negligent per se, and as such plaintiffs are entitled to an award of liability,” the suit says.
In July, Hiestand signaled that her client believed the “significant delay” in using an AED contributed to Star Ifeacho’s death.
“Although an AED was supposed to be present in the training room, it had been removed, causing a significant delay in providing life-saving treatment for Star,” the lawyer’s July statement said.
“He didn’t have any medical conditions that would have resulted in his death had the AED been applied properly and timely,” Hiestand said Monday.