The family of UCF football player Ereck Plancher has called 18 witnesses, hoping their testimony convinces a jury the UCF Athletics Association is guilty of gross negligence.
Plancher collapsed and died on March 18, 2008, shortly after offseason conditioning drills on the UCF campus. An Orange County autopsy report stated Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait, while UCFAA attorneys contend he was killed by an undiagnosed heart condition and could not have been saved.
The Plancher attorneys are scheduled to rest their case Monday as the wrongful death trial enters its final week. Here's a look back at witnesses who have testified so far during the trial:
DR. BARRY MARON
Maron, a cardiologist with more than 40 years of experience hired by the Plancher family, testified Plancher's death was caused by complications from sickle cell trait. He told jurors when people with the trait are put through extreme stress, red blood cells usually shaped like a doughnut can flatten into the shape of a sickle. They become sticky and block oxygen from getting to organs, quickly damaging the body and causing death.
Maron rejected UCFAA's assertion Plancher died from a thickening of the heart muscle that blocked at least 90 percent of the blood flow to his heart. Maron testified anything is possible, but it was not a probable cause of death.
He said the thickening of the heart muscle was an incidental finding that likely occurred after Plancher's death. Maron agreed there are no rigorous scientific studies proving sickling occurs before death.
UCF PLAYERS ANTHONY DAVIS, CODY MINNICH AND BRIAN WATTERS
Davis, Minnich and Watters were all present for Plancher's final workout. They told the jury UCF coach George O'Leary ordered water and athletic trainers be removed from the fieldhouse before the team began a grueling obstacle course. They said no one helped Plancher when he showed signs of distress during the obstacle course. The players added that O'Leary later cursed at Plancher for falling and finishing last during team sprints.
When they were asked why their testimony differed from sworn statements they gave a UCFAA attorney a month after Plancher's death, the players indicated O'Leary's personal assistant was in the room and they felt intimidated by him. Davis and Minnich also stated O'Leary told the players not to tell anyone outside of the team about Plancher's final workout.
The jury was told Minnich was removed from the team before his senior season for violating team rules; Davis contributed on special teams and now works for the Boys and Girls Club; and Watters was a team captain during the 2010 season. All three players earned UCF degrees.
UCF COACH GEORGE O'LEARY
O'Leary testified he never ordered water or athletic trainers be removed from Plancher's final workout. He said he knew Plancher had sickle cell trait, but he relied on athletic trainers to treat players. He said he thought Robert Jackson, the sole athletic trainer at Plancher's final workout, was aware the player had the trait. O'Leary testified Plancher collapsed after a "non taxing workout," and he never noticed Plancher showing any signs of distress.
O'Leary said he saw Plancher trip during sprints near the end of the workout, but he thought Plancher just got his cleat stuck. O'Leary said he did admonish Plancher for finishing last during the sprints. He added, "If you're asking me how I felt after everything went down that day, awful. I felt awful. I lost a member of the family that day."
UCF ATHLETIC TRAINER MARY VANDER HEIDEN
Vander Heiden, the UCF head football athletic trainer who was not present during Plancher's final workout, but helped provide emergency care before paramedics arrived, stated she had no written record she told Plancher he had sickle cell trait. When asked whether she informed Plancher him about the condition, she responded, "I can't say with certainty that yes I did or no I didn't." Vander Heiden said she was shocked to learn Jackson did not know Plancher had the trait.
FORMER UCF ATHLETIC TRAINER ROBERT JACKSON
Jackson testified he learned Plancher had sickle cell trait following his death via media reports. Jackson agreed it was not the ideal way to get the information, but he said he would not have changed the way he responded to Plancher's medical emergency.
MEDICAL EXAMINER JOSHUA STEPHANY
Stephany told the jury about the process he used to determine Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait, displaying a series of pictures featuring sickle shaped red blood cells clogging Plancher's organs. He told the jury emails he received from Dr. Randy Eichner asking him to look into whether Plancher's death was caused by sickle cell trait had no impact on his findings. Stephany said it was unlikely an undiagnosed heart condition caused Plancher's death because it would have killed him immediately. Plancher died about an hour after the workout.
DR. RANDY EICHNER
Eichner, 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 athletic trainers 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," Eichner said.
UCFAA attorneys 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 proving sickle cell trait can cause sudden death. Eichner said he reached out to the medical examiner four months before he was hired by the Plancher family because he wants to prevent more athletes deaths caused by the trait.
PROFESSOR DOUGLAS CASA
Casa, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut and certified athletic trainer hired by the Plancher family, told the jury UCF was "below the standard of care," failing to intervene when Plancher showed signs of distress during his final workout. Casa said athletic trainers should closely monitor athletes with sickle cell trait, providing water and instructing them to rest whenever they are showing obvious signs of muscle weakness and unusual fatigue.
Casa agreed with UCFAA attorneys there are no rigorous medical trials proving sickle cell trait caused sudden death. He argued it was impossible to do many of those tests without compromising the life of a person in distress.
UCF ASSISTANT COACHES DAVID KELLY AND TIM SALEM
Salem and Kelly, who helped supervise Plancher's final workout, stated they never knew he had sickle cell trait.
UCF TEAM DOCTORS
Dr. Dan Monet, Dr. Douglas Meuser and Dr. Kenneth Krumins, who are all UCF football team volunteer physicians, said they never knew Plancher tested positive for sickle cell trait.
Duprat, Ereck Plancher's aunt, told the jury about the great loss suffered by the Plancher family.
DR. DANIEL SPITZ
Spitz, a pathologist hired by the Plancher family, told the jury his review of the medical files indicated Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait.
UCFAA attorneys aimed to discredit Spitz, noting that he once botched an autopsy by failing to find a bullet in a skull. Spitz said he was dealing with decomposed remains that were extremely degraded. He told the jury he stood by his opinion about the cause of Plancher's death.
UCF ATHLETIC DIRECTOR KEITH TRIBBLE
Tribble outlined the ideal response for treating athletes with sickle cell trait. He agreed many of the allegations made by the Plancher attorneys about the player's treatment, if true, would violate UCFAA policy.
The jury will take a tour of the UCF football complex, the scene of Plancher's final workout. UCFAA attorneys are expected to call football players, coaches and medical experts to support their argument Plancher died from an undiagnosed heart condition and the school did everything possible to save his life.
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