OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The family of former California football player Ted Agu filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California on Tuesday, alleging "reckless and negligent behavior" by the staff toward an athlete known to have sickle cell trait.
The lawsuit filed in California Superior Court repeatedly says that the university was negligent for hiring and retaining trainer Robert Jackson, who previously worked at Central Florida, where he was the sole certified athletic trainer present when wide receiver Ereck Plancher died following conditioning drills in March 2008.
The suit says that Jackson was the most experienced trainer at the scene when Agu died after experiencing "extreme fatigue" during an offseason training run in Berkeley on Feb. 7. The family's attorneys argue that, like Plancher, Agu had sickle cell trait and should not have been put through a "lethal conditioning drill."
"The same thing happened here," said attorney Steve Yerrid, who also represented Plancher's family. "What you see here is a bona fide tragedy."
Yerrid stood on the steps outside the Alameda County Courthouse with trial lawyer Brian Panish and Agu's sobbing mother and father, Emilia and Ambrose, in front of three oversized photos of the former Cal defensive end. Agu's older brother and two of his three older sisters also attended the news conference.
The family did not speak to reporters at the request of their attorneys.
Panish said there have been no settlement talks with the university and he expects the case to go to trial in 12 to 16 months. He said a jury would decide damages, which he requested to be "substantial."
The Alameda County Coroner's office said in April that Agu died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an excessive thickening of the heart muscle. Yerrid and Panish said Agu's death was brought on by the sickle cell trait and not a heart condition.
The NCAA requires universities to test players for sickle cell, and Yerrid and Panish said Cal had been aware of Agu's condition since he arrived in 2010.
Cal's athletic department said in a statement that its medical staff reacted promptly and followed all recommended protocols outlined by the NCAA. Cal said it could not discuss any student's specific medical history because of privacy laws, "but as the Alameda County Coroner's report states, the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which suggests there was little anyone could have done to save him."
Cal also said the university remains deeply saddened by Agu's death and recognizes this is a difficult time for his family. The statement reiterated that the school will continue to honor Agu's memory and that it is committed to the safety of all its students.
Many athletes with sickle cell can play their whole careers without complications. The NCAA notes on its website that sickle cell "can affect some athletes during periods of intense exercise, when the inherited condition causes red blood cells to warp into stiff and sticky sickle shapes that block blood vessels and deprive vital organs and muscles of oxygen."
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