Coaches Face Murder Charges After 16-Year-Old Imani Bell Collapsed At Basketball Practice From Extreme Heat

[Screenshot/Public — WSB-TV]

Caroline Kucera Contributor
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An Atlanta-area grand jury has charged two coaches with murder for the death of a teenager who collapsed due to extreme heat at basketball practice.

Larosa Walker-Asekere and Dwight Palme have been sued by the family of 16-year-old Imani Bell, a student at Elite Scholars Academy just south of Atlanta, who died after their women’s basketball practice, according to The Associated Press (AP). They are now facing charges of second-degree murder, second-degree child cruelty, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct, WSB-TV reported.

Bell family attorney Justin Miller said the charges are monumental considering coaches are not normally charged after incidents like this, WSB-TV reported. “This is only the second time in history a coach has been charged in this way and the first time a coach has ever been charged with murder,” Miller said, according to WSB-TV.

The attorney also said Tuesday that the indictment “sends a signal that the DA is taking this seriously.” Considering the incident happened nearly two years ago, Miller wants to see the case move ahead “swiftly” and that “The point of the case is the prosecution, not just the charges,” according to The AP.

Bell collapsed while she was completing basketball drills in Aug. 2019 after running up the school football stadium steps for mandatory conditioning, The AP reported. She was taken to a hospital after practice and died later that day of heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure, the lawsuit alleges, according to The AP.(RELATED: High School Runner About To Set Record Collapses At Finish, Blames Outdoor Mask Mandate)

The family’s lawsuit also alleges that the school officials violated a Georgia High School Association rule which bans outdoor practices in extreme weather conditions. This includes suspending outdoor activities when the heat index is 95 degrees and above, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which reviewed the policy. “Note that full sun exposure can increase the heat index by as much as 15 degrees,” the district wrote in bolded font in the policy, according to the outlet.

On the day of Imani’s death, temperatures soared above 90 degrees, and the heat index was between 106 to 108 degrees in Jonesboro, the location of the school, according to NBC News. The lawsuit reportedly claims that the coaches did not properly monitor the temperature, and Attorney Miller also alleges the assistant coach, “saw Imani struggling” and continued on with the practice, according to WSB-TV.

In addition to the coaches, the Elite Scholars Academy athletic director, principal and assistant principal are reportedly listed in the lawsuit as negligent parties in the teen’s death.

“We are every day learning to live with the loss of our daughter,” Imani’s mother, Dorian, said at a February press conference, according to NBC News. “Realizing that this is nothing that will ever go away, that it will always be here, a piece of me is missing, but we’re learning to live … We just want closure in this whole situation.”

It’s not clear if the coaches are still employed at Elite Scholars Academy, according to NBC. When asked for a comment on the lawsuit, a Clayton County Public School district spokesperson told NBC, “the school system does not comment on personnel matters or pending/ongoing litigation” due to school guidelines.