Former UCF wide receiver Brian Watters, a team captain during the 2010 season, testified coach George O'Leary ordered water and trainers be removed from the fieldhouse during Ereck Plancher's final workout.
"Coach O'Leary, at times, he'll order water put out in a certain drill to build mental toughness," Watters told jurors Friday afternoon.
Watters stated no one came to Plancher's aid when he showed signs of distress.
When Plancher family attorney J.D. Dowell asked Watters if O'Leary ordered the water and athletic trainers out, Watters said yes.
O'Leary testified Thursday he never ordered any water or athletic trainers be removed from the fieldhouse.
Plancher collapsed and died on March 18, 2008, shortly after offseason conditioning drills on the UCF campus. Orange County medical examiner Joshua Stephany testified Plancher died from complications to sickle cell trait. UCF Athletics Association attorneys have argued Stephany failed to do a thorough autopsy, missing an undiagnosed heart condition that caused the player's death.
Watters is the third former UCF football player to testify O'Leary ordered water and athletic trainers out of the fieldhouse during what Plancher family experts have called a critical stretch of the workout for the wide receiver.
UCF Athletics Association attorney Kevin Taylor asked Watters whether he included information about the water being removed from the workout and Plancher's distress during a sworn statement he gave to a UCF attorney about a month after Plancher died. Watters said he did not.
While being questioned by a Plancher family attorney, Watters said Manny Messengeur, O'Leary's personal assistant, was present when the players gave their statements to a UCF attorney. Watters said Messengeur "just watched and kind of chaperoned on what we were saying."
Watters told the jury he ranked the March 18, 2008, workout among the top three toughest offseason conditioning drills he had done in five years at UCF. He said players were expected to jog from station to station with little time to rest.
He told the jury the team lifted weights and did agility stations before O'Leary ordered "water out, trainers out." Watters recalled seeing Plancher first showing signs of distress during an obstacle course that he testified he had never done before at his time at UCF.
Watters said wide receiver Anthony Davis helped Plancher complete the obstacle course. While the rest of the players were trying to follow the rules and jog to the sideline after the obstacle course, Watters said Plancher struggled to keep up. "He would jog some and he'd stop and breathe a little."
When he was asked if it was unusual for Plancher to struggle to jog, Watters said, "yes." Dowell then asked Watters if it was obvious Plancher was having trouble, Watters responded, "yes."
Dowell asked Watters if he consumed any water inside the fieldhouse during the workout, and Watters responded he did not.
Watters recalled seeing Plancher fall during a sideline-to-sideline sprint the players were doing near the end of the workout. Watters was asked how he would describe the way Plancher fell, Watters responded, "his legs gave out on him."
Watters said Plancher got back up and finished last, reaching the sideline shortly after the offensive linemen.
He testified when players gathered around O'Leary for a huddle, the coached cursed at Plancher and told him "you're better than that" after Plancher finished the sprints behind offensive linemen.
Watters said Plancher could not do jumping jacks to end the workout. He told jurors he noticed Plancher's eyes looked glazed. Watters said Plancher collapsed and he noticed four teammates, including Davis, helping carry Plancher out of the fieldhouse.
Watters was one of five witnesses the Plancher attorneys called Friday.
Robert Jackson, the sole certified athletic trainer at Plancher's final workout, testified that he learned the football player had sickle cell trait following his death via media reports. Jackson agreed it was not the ideal way to get the information, but he argued he would not have changed the way he cared for Plancher.
When Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid asked Jackson whether it was the appropriate way to be informed Plancher had the trait, he responded, "You don't want to hear about anything retrospectively, regardless of what's going on."
Yerrid then asked Jackson whether it was appropriate to learn of the condition through the media rather than from the school. Jackson said, "You would like to have been told except through the media."
Jackson was then asked if he should have been informed of Plancher's condition by UCF and Jackson responded, "You would always want to be informed."
UCF head football athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden O'Leary testified Thursday they thought Jackson knew Plancher had the trait. Vander Heiden said she was "shocked" to learn Jackson stated he was not aware of Plancher's condition.
Plancher family attorneys have argued the football player was never informed he had the trait that contributed to his death. UCFAA insists he was informed of the condition. When Vander Heiden was asked whether she informed Plancher he had sickle cell trait, she responded, "I can't say with certainty that yes I did or no I didn't." Vander Heiden stated there was no written record she told Plancher he had the trait.
Yerrid asked Jackson if he would consider it unacceptable if Plancher was not counseled and advised he tested positive for sickle cell trait. Jackson said he wasn't sure if Plancher was told and eventually added, "You would want to relay any diagnostic tests."
Jackson was then asked if he would have told Plancher. Jackson paused, then said, "In my experience, if it was up to me and I was the one instructing the student athlete, I would have to do my due diligence and instructed the athlete on what the test result said."
Jackson added according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association consensus statement, educating an athlete who has the condition is part of the protocol athletic trainers should follow.
Jackson was asked if he recalled UCF coach George O'Leary going on "a profanity laced tirade" while addressing Plancher near the end of the football player's final workout. Jackson agreed when Yerrid called O'Leary "an old school football coach." Jackson stated, "He uses profanity to get the most out of his players."
He recalled talking to Plancher after he stumbled during a sprint. Jackson said he couldn't recall exactly how long it was between the sprints and teammates carrying Plancher outside. He estimated it was about 12 to 14 minutes.
Jackson stated he saw Plancher fall down following the team's final huddle and moved forward as four of Plancher's teammates helped pick him up. Jackson testified he told the players to put him down so he could do an assessment of Plancher before letting them help take Plancher outside.
Yerrid asked Jackson if he would have pulled an athlete from a workout if he collapsed, Jackson responded, "regardless of sickle cell trait, you'd pull that athlete."
Yerrid then asked whether it would be especially important if the athlete had sickle cell trait, and Jackson agreed.
Yerrid asked Jackson if Plancher responded to any of his questions or instructions and Jackson responded, "No, he never said a word."
When Yerrid asked why Jackson wrote in his UCFAA statement on the day Plancher died that he took Plancher outside to get water, Jackson responded it was probably because he knew there was 50-gallon tub of water known as "a cow" because it had many long tubes similar to udders to dispense the water.
O'Leary testified on Thursday remembered Jackson giving Plancher water inside the fieldhouse before his teammates helped carry him out of the facility. O'Leary agreed Jackson would be in the best position to recall whether Jackson gave Plancher water inside the fieldhouse.
Yerrid asked Jackson whether he carried water bottles inside the fieldhouse on the day Plancher died. Jackson responded, "I did not, no sir."
Jackson said he couldn't recall if there were any water bottles inside the fieldhouse. He said, "I just remember the first time I had them in my hands was outside."
Yerrid asked if Jackson could testify that there was water inside the fieldhouse and he responded, "I cannot."
Dr. Randy Eichner, a physician who has studied sickle cell trait for 25 years, testified UCF's response was "below the standard of care" on the day Plancher died. Eichner said Jackson needed to know Plancher had the trait to monitor him properly.
"They didn't pull him or help him fast enough and if they had, he would have survived," he said.
Eichner, an expert hired by the Plancher family, testified he based his opinions on a review of more than 20 depositions, Plancher's medical history, the medical examiner's report and other files related to the case.
He told the jury said extreme stress causes normally benign sickle cell trait to cause malformation of red blood cells, which become sticky and quickly break down the body's organs. He testified based on his work with the military, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and college athletes, sickling could occur within two to five minutes of an intense workout without rest.
After a lunch break, UCFAA attorney Dan Shapiro aggressively cross examined Eichner. His exchanges with the expert witness were contentious, with Eichner rarely committing to give "yes" or "no" answers without providing the context he stated was needed for jurors.
Shapiro aimed to discredit Eichner by highlighting inconsistencies in accounts of the workout he used to form his opinions, his contact with the medical examiner before Stephany completed his autopsy report and the lack of rigorous medical studies of athletes suffering complications from sickle cell trait.
Eichner defended his decision to contact the medical examiner on the day after Plancher's death and suggesting Stephany investigate whether it was caused by sickle cell trait. He said he was tired of seeing so many athletes die from sickle cell trait complications. Eichner said given his extensive sickle cell trait research, he didn't think it was wrong to respond to Stephany's follow-up questions.
Ereck Plancher's aunt, Anise Duprat, testified about the intense loss the UCF football player's parents suffered following his death.
Duprat and her sister, Giselle Plancher, were working together at a nursing home on the day Plancher died. She described driving her sister home and her sister learning Ereck Plancher had died while they were in the car. Duprat said she had to hold Gisele Plancher in the car to keep her from jumping out. Duprat said she carried her sister inside her home and placed her on the couch, where Gisele Plancher passed out.
Duprat testified when Gisele Plancher received the phone call in the car and was informed that her son had died, Duprat responded, "I say, `Oh my God, I'm going to lose my sister.'"
She was asked what the impact was of Plancher's death was on his family. Duprat responded, "it's a very big loss. They can't hold on for a long time. And then the family was devastated. Very."
UCFAA attorneys cross examined all witnesses except for Jackson, the former UCF assistant athletic trainer.
Plancher family attorneys arranged to have Jackson's testimony videotaped because he could not testify live during the trial. UCFAA objected to the decision to videotape Jackson's testimony. UCFAA had one attorney listen to the proceedings, but its legal team argued it could not object or it would forfeit its right to appeal. The Fifth District Court of Appeals has not ruled on the appeal.
Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans said rules of procedure don't allow him to sustain objections the UCFAA attorneys lodged in court because they were not made during the videotaped testimony.
Evans told the UCFAA attorneys they did not object "at their peril."
Jackson is currently an athletic trainer at Georgia Southern, a school that did not have a sickle cell trait policy in place before Plancher's death on March 18, 2008. Before the trial, Evans ruled the jury could not hear about any policies after March 18, 2008.
Jackson's trial testimony played late Thursday included references to Georgia Southern's current sickle cell trait policy. Evans said he would have sustained objections had they been appropriately made, but his hands were tied due to procedural rules.
The judge agreed to read instructions to the jury that they should not consider any policies after March 18, 2008.
After admonishing the UCFAA attorneys for not bringing up their objections until the video testimony was being played for the jury Thursday, Evans agreed to review objections Friday morning.
Both sets of attorneys began the day by asking the judge to weigh in on procedural disputes. Evans once again warned them the be professional and stated he would be issuing fines if they continued to violate procedural rules.
The trial is set to resume Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. UCFAA requested the jury begin the day with a private tour of UCF's weight room and indoor practice facility. The judge and attorneys will walk through the scene of Plancher's final workout, but Evans said no one will be allowed to speak to the jury.
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