Coaches charged with murder of teen player who collapsed in heat

“I didn’t think I wasn’t leaving the hospital without my daughter,” said Imani Bell’s mother.

A Georgia teen died after collapsing in extreme heat during mandatory workout drills in 2019. Her basketball coaches now face murder charges.

Imani Bell, 16, was scaling the steps of a football stadium in 97-degree heat during her basketball team’s conditioning drills when she collapsed and died hours later of a heat stroke, PEOPLE reports. The incident occurred at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro on August 13, 2019. School officials sought medical attention and the teen was transported to Southern Regional Hospital where she died. 

“I didn’t think I wasn’t leaving the hospital without my daughter,” Bell’s mom, Dorian Bell, said during a Good Morning America interview. “But it didn’t turn out that way. She fought, but she didn’t make it out.”

Imani Bell
Imani Bell (Credit: Facebook)

The teen’s two coaches, Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer, were both charged last month with second-degree murder, second-degree cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter, and reckless conduct, per the report. A grand jury determined the two caused “excessive physical pain by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student athletes in dangerous heat,” resulting in Bell’s death. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations conducted an autopsy and determined Bell’s cause of death was “solely attributable to heatstroke caused by strenuous physical exertion in extreme temperatures.” She had no underlying medical conditions. 

The outdoor temperature on that tragic day was reportedly about 98 degrees with a heat index of about 127.

“We have received a copy of the report,” said family attorney Justin Miller in response to the autopsy report. “The report confirms what we knew in the beginning, that Imani’s death was caused by her being directed to exercise outside in extremely dangerous temperatures. Unfortunately for the family, the report brings up many unanswered questions regarding who knew what and when. Imani’s death was completely avoidable and for the sake of all of the other children in the county, we are going to make sure all of our questions are answered. We are thankful to have finally received the report, however, and we will continue to push for Justice for Imani.”

The Bell family has filed a civil lawsuit against the school district and the Elite Scholars Academy coaching staff, according to the report. 

“The tragedy that happened with Imani shouldn’t have happened,” Bell’s dad, Eric Bell, said at a press conference. The grieving father, who coaches at another school, said he can’t wrap his head around “the idea that someone would have their child or the team out in the extreme heat.”

The suit alleges the coaches “observed Imani experiencing early signs of heat illness during the outdoor practice, but nevertheless directed Imani to continue performing the conditioning drills with her team and directed Imani to run up the stadium steps.” 

Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom
Dwight Broom Palmer and Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere (Credit: CLAYTON COUNTY POLICE)

“The rules weren’t followed and they had rules that would have helped her stay alive,” said Miller. “They were supposed to have ice baths and things of that nature there if they were outside in the heat and they didn’t have that.”

Walker-Asekere’s attorneys told WXIA-TV their client “was on her first day as coach of the girls’ basketball team, and she was relying on the direction of the athletic director and Elite Scholars Academy personnel to conduct this conditioning activity.”

The family is reportedly seeking monetary damages as well as funeral and burial expenses.

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