The parents of a Georgia high school basketball player who collapsed while practicing outdoors in the sweltering heat and later died announced Tuesday that they had agreed to a $10 million settlement with the school district.
As part of the settlement, the Clayton County school system agreed to rename the Elite Scholars Academy gymnasium Imani Bell, who was a 16-year-old student at the school at the time of her death. A ceremony to commemorate the renaming is planned for Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for the family said.
Imani’s father, Eric Bell, called the gym’s renaming a “great honor” but said the deal was “bittersweet”.
“We would give anything to have her back with us,” he said in a phone interview.
Imani collapsed on Aug. 13, 2019 after running up the steps of the soccer stadium during required conditioning drills for the girls’ basketball team, her family said in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the school’s administration. The temperature was above 30°C at the time and a heat warning was in place for the area.
Imani died later in the day from heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure, the lawsuit says. An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found she had no previous medical conditions and her death was solely due to heat stroke caused by strenuous physical exertion in extreme temperatures, family attorneys said.
Two trainers, Larosa Walker-Asekere and Dwight Palmer, were charged in July 2021 with murder and child cruelty, among other things, in Imani’s death. These criminal proceedings have not yet been completed.
Imani’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in February 2021. Online court filings show the lawsuit was settled last month. A family attorney, L. Chris Stewart, said the sizeable settlement sends a message to other school districts.
“It sends a nationwide message to every school district and athletic program … that our children’s lives are more important than athletics, and every district needs to recognize that no child should die from heat exhaustion,” he said. “We appreciate Clayton County for delivering this message nationwide.”
The family established the Keep Imani Foundation, which their attorneys say is partially funded by funds from the settlement. Eric Bell said it will offer scholarships for students and help schools get cooling tubs to prevent heatstroke deaths.
Bell said he wanted to send a message to school leadership: “Keep training coaches, keep educating students about the dangers of heat and humidity and try to be prepared for a situation like this.”