On January 22, a high school football coach in Kentucky was charged with reckless homicide in the wrongful death of a player as the result of the personal injuries he sustained during a sweltering practice in which he collapsed. It is a rare criminal case against a coach in a heat death.
David Jason Stinson was indicted by a grand jury in the death of Pleasure Ridge Park offensive lineman Max Gilpin. On August 20, Stinson, in his first year as the Louisville school’s head coach, was directing practice when the 15-year-old sophomore collapsed and had difficulty breathing. The heat index, a measure of how hot it feels based on temperature and humidity, reached 94 degrees that day.
According to authorities, the boy had a temperature of 107 degrees upon his arrival at the hospital and he died three days later. The coroner’s office said that no autopsy was performed, but it appeared that Gilpin’s death was caused by complications from heat stroke.
Assistant football coach Steven Deacon contacted 911 and told a dispatcher that Gilpin was semiconscious and that his father was nearby, according to a transcript of the call.
Heat exposure deaths occur occasionally in all levels of football. The most famous example is the 2001 death of Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer. Numerous lawsuits have resulted from the cases, but no evidence can be found of a coach ever being charged in the deaths.
According to Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel, the charge of reckless homicide means that grand jurors did not find Stinson’s actions to be intentional or malicious, but that “a reasonable man should have realized something like this could have occurred.”
Stinson’s first three years at Pleasure Ridge Park were spent as an assistant football coach before taking over. According to a school spokeswoman, he has been reassigned pending the trial’s outcome.
According to Stengel, Stinson will surrender on January 26 and likely remain free pending trial.
According to attorneys for Michele Crockett and Jeff Gilpin, Gilpin’s divorced parents, the school system and high school haven’t provided information on the player’s death to the family.
Gilpin’s parents filed suit against Gilpin and five assistant coaches in state court alleging negligence and “reckless disregard.” Stengel said that the five assistants have not been charged in the indictment and had not committed a crime.
According to a report compiled for the American Football Coaches Association in February 2008 by University of North Carolina professor Dr. Frederick Mueller, there have been 114 cases of heat stroke resulting in death on all levels of football from sandlot to professional from 1960-2007.
Mueller attributed 16 deaths to heat stroke from 2003-2007 and both of the 2007 cases were on the high school level.