Jason Stinson, the football coach of Pleasure Ridge High School in Kentucky, has been charged with reckless homicide in the death of a teenage player, Max Gilpin, 15. Gilpin collapsed from heat exhaustion on August 20, 2008 during a practice and died three days later. Gilpin died during a “gasser” where students sprint up and down the field.
It is a rare charge against a coach for such a death. Heat stroke deaths are not uncommon among teenage players, as in this California case. Such deaths have even occurred in the National Football League as with the death Korey Stringer, a 335-pound All-Pro offensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings.
Notably, the grand jury denied Stinson’s request to give testimony — an odd decision. While targets are not generally subpoenaed to testify, they are allowed to testify at their own risk. It is unclear why a jury would not want to hear from the accused and instead act on a summary of interviews from witnesses. There is an obvious suspicion that the prosecutors encouraged the denial but no information was offered on the question.
Records show that Gilpin’s body temperature reached 107 degrees and witnesses said Stinson refused to allow him to drink water on that day.
The parents have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit against six coaches claiming negligence, focusing on a critical 20 minutes that elapsed between the time when Gilpin collapsed and when they called paramedics.
For the full story, click here.
7 thoughts on “Fatal “Gasser” at Pleasure Ridge High: Football Coach Charged With Reckless Homicide”
Maybe the jury will absolve him, but one has already indicted him, and he now stands in the dock of the court of public opinion. His high school coaching days are likely over since who wants the liability risk on a guy with this kind of judgment. I suspect a plea bargain to a misdemeanor with no jail time is coming, but the message has already been sent to the coaching community. Damages are likely even now being reserved, and I feel certain the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) will tighten restrictions.
Under KHSAA guidelines, when the heat index is under 95, schools must “provide ample amounts of water. This means that water should always be available and athletes should be able to take in as much water as they desire” and schools must “watch/monitor athletes carefully for necessary action.”
Also on the medication/supplement issue, Pleasure Ridge athletic director Craig Webb confirmed in a separate deposition that the school KNEW he had been taking the drug because it was listed on his athlete information form. As I said they are “charged” with the knowledge of the drugs propensities and side effects. [emphasis added] Most every teacher I know understands that Adderall is used for ADHD treatment and is a powerful stimulant containing amphetamine. And if the coach didn’t know his kids were using creatine, he’d be the only one in the Country so oblivious.
You may feel 20 minutes is an adequate time to wait before calling emergency personnel, but I wouldn’t take my chances with a jury on that issue with these facts, especially given that the other player collapsed BEFORE the fatal collapse of Gilpin. We can rationalize all we want, but the coach was either barbaric or incompetent (allegedly on both counts,of course), and neither is a particularly attractive alternative for one standing in loco parentis.
I can wait for the facts to come out, but the bottom line is that, while I’m sure that Stinson’s counsel is saying “no deals” now, he’ll likely consider other options once all the facts heard by the Grand Jury come out– a jury of Stinson’s peers which, by the way, saw no need to hear from him before binding him over for a felony trial.
I should not have said the other player “recovered quickly.” That was my mistake.
As for the rest, we don’t know if the coach knew anything about the creatine (not on the form), or was even informed of the possible side effects of Adderall. Or how many more of the kids were taking it. And as for the emergency response, while you can say the coaches were culpable because they didn’t call more quickly, that might speak more to the district and whether it had policies on when to call 911, and whether it trained the coaches on them. The coach will certainly have to answer why it took so long to call, but, again, whether it rises to the level of criminality is a much higher standard.
Also, whether the soccer parents heard him denying players water is not relevant if the team was getting its state-mandated water breaks. Should he have gone above the minimum? Probably. But again, for criminal purposes, if he followed the rules, that would seem to speak against him being reckless.
Also, does the mere fact he had his players running in that weather make him reckless? If he is, then every football coach in the country is reckless. My high school track coach was reckless. Surely, you have to adjust to conditions, but in any physical activity, improvement is made often by pushing the body extremely hard and breaking through a wall. It’s tragic what happened to Max Gilpin, and hopefully there are lessons Jason Stinson is learning from this as well. I just find it very hard to believe a jury is going to convict him.
“The coach’s attorneys, no surprise, want a thorough background check on the player’s medication and supplement history. He was taking Adderall up until his death, and was taking creatine, according to his parents, up to a month before. The Adderall prescription was on his school physical form, though it’s not known whether Stinson saw it, or whether it was provided to him.”
Seems to me that knowledge is a two-edged sword here. If the coach knew of his player’s condition before the fatal mistake (and he is charged with information on the medical form), wouldn’t he be more, rather than less, culpable? Also, while an autopsy was not performed,as it likely should have been, the coroner’s determination as to cause of death relating to heat stroke would be prima facie valid, with little or no chance for the defense to rebut it given the delay in prosecution and the likely resistance to exhumation.
On the issue of the second player “recovering quickly,” USA Today reports that the other player was hospitalized for two days following the ordeal, so I would disagree with your characterization of his recovery.
The most telling evidence will likely be the testimony of the soccer parents on the adjacent field who overheard the defendant and his underlings denying water to the players on a day with a heat index of 94 and thus directly violating the Kentucky High School Athletic Association guidelines. Also the unwarranted delay in seeking emergency medical care while the victim lay unconscious is beyond explanation.
While the mens rea of this defendant may be fairly disputed, the reckless conduct probably cannot be so easily dismissed. He needs to be banned from coaching for some substantial period of time, along with serving a very limited jail sentence to permit him to focus about what’s really important. Also appropriate compensation should be paid to the parents by the School Board for negligent failure to supervise their coach which caused this unspeakable and needless tragedy.
Not to keep shamelessly linking to my own blog, but here is some more info on the criminal case, and the background of the practice:
The coach’s attorneys, no surprise, want a thorough background check on the player’s medication and supplement history. He was taking Adderall up until his death, and was taking creatine, according to his parents, up to a month before. The Adderall prescription was on his school physical form, though it’s not known whether Stinson saw it, or whether it was provided to him.
The medical history matters because one side effect of both creatine and Adderall is dehydration, which might help explain why Max Gilpin collapsed and died, while only one other player on the team was overcome by the heat (he recovered quickly).
Also, no autopsy was ever performed on Max Gilpin. While heat certainly was a factor (he recorded a body temp of 107), no check was ever made to see if he had any heart problems. Often in these cases of players dropping dead on the field, they have an enlarged heart or other heart problems that had never previously been diagnosed.
This is not to say I’m completely supportive of the coach. If he was denying water breaks, he was derelict in his duty no matter if no one collapsed. (The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has rules on water breaks when the heat index reaches certain levels.) But I fear for Max Gilpin’s parents that their pain over losing their son is going to get worse when his medical history and their parenting skills get picked apart in court.
What mespo said.
And just as a little postscript to this sad tale, how did the Pleasure Ridge Panthers do last season with Capt. Stinson (yes, he finished out the season coaching the team) at the helm, and his application of the “Junction Boys” training so ruthlessly applied? Why he went 4-4. Quite a price for mediocrity.
I’ve been reading about this tragedy all day yesterday. It should not have happened and points up the need to carefully screen high school coaches, and to insure proper supervision of these ex-jocks. No water, violation of district heat guidelines, and utter contempt for the well-being of his players should earn you more than a reassignment.
Stinson told reporters, “The one thing people keep forgetting in this is that I lost one of my boys that day. It was a boy that I loved and a boy that I cared for and a boy that meant the world to me. That’s the thing that people forget. And that’s a burden I will carry with me for the rest of my life.” That’s about right it’s the coach’s loss, and we should pity him despite his role in the death. One wonders if the coach expressed that sentiment to the parents of the kid who sent him off to practice that day with the belief his safety would be protected by a state employee charged with that duty.
Tough love indeed, Mr. Stinson.
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