LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A former Kentucky high school football
coach was found not guilty Thursday in the death of a player who
collapsed at a practice where the team was put through a series of
sprints on a hot summer day.
Attorneys said the case was the first time a football coach was
charged in the death of a player. It was closely watched by those
involved in youth athletics and has already resulted in changes to
Kentucky law and other efforts to make practices safer for
Former Pleasure Ridge Park High School coach David Jason
Stinson, 37, was charged after 15-year-old Max Gilpin collapsed at
an August 2008 practice as the team ran a series of sprints known
as "gassers." He died three days later at a Louisville hospital
of heat stroke, sepsis and multiple organ failure. His temperature
reached at least 107 degrees.
The jury deliberated for about 90 minutes, and Stinson hugged
defense attorney Brian Butler after the verdict was read.
"That's why they came back quickly, because he was innocent,"
said Butler, who characterized the charges of reckless homicide and
wanton endangerment as a "witch hunt." Stinson left without
speaking to reporters.
During the trial, players said Stinson ordered the gassers as
punishment for the lack of effort they showed at practice on a day
where the temperature and heat index were both 94 degrees.
Prosecutors relied on a series of Gilpin's teammates who
testified that several teens became ill during the gassers,
vomiting or bowing out with ailments.
Several experts testified that Gilpin suffered from exertional
heat stroke, which led to his death. One witness, University of
Connecticut associate professor Douglas Casa, testified Gilpin
could have been saved if he'd been immersed in ice water almost
immediately after collapsing.
Stinson's defense relied on players who testified that they only
ran a few more wind sprints than normal that day. Three of Gilpin's
classmates, along with his stepmother, testified that Gilpin
complained of not feeling well throughout the day he collapsed.
Defense medical experts told jurors that it appeared a
combination of heat, the use of the dietary supplement creatine and
attention deficit disorder drug Adderall, and being ill were the
main factors that contributed to Gilpin's death, which they called
The medical experts also said little could have been done to
save Gilpin because his temperature was so high for so long before
he made it to the hospital and began cooling down.
Gilpin's mother, Michele Crockett, said the trial told the story
of what led up to her son's death and was "an uphill battle" for
prosecutors. But because the public heard the details of what
happened, the trial was worth it, she said.
"We feel fortunate that it was even brought to the jury,"
Crockett said. "We can live with it. We can live with that."
"We know Max didn't die in vain," said Gilpin's father, Jeff
One of the prosecutors, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Leland
Hulbert, said he hoped the case would prompt coaches to pay closer
attention to their players.
"I do think some good will come out of this trial," Hulbert
Some of those changes came in the months before the trial:
Kentucky lawmakers this year passed legislation that led to a
four-hour online course for coaches on emergency planning and
recognition; temperature-related illnesses; head, neck and facial
injuries; and first aid.
Jefferson County Public Schools also now require all athletes
and at least one parent to watch a 40-minute video that touches on
everything from dietary supplements to bacterial infections. Local
high school coaches must attend a seminar on using positive
reinforcement when dealing with students.
Also this year, the National Athletic Trainers' Association
issued a report recommending more stringent heat-related guidelines
at the high school level. Among the recommendations were
eliminating two-a-day practices during the first week of August
drills and giving players more time to recuperate.
The executive director of the Kentucky Football Coaches
Association said the trial was closely watched because a conviction
would have affected all teams.
"Looking forward on what the ramifications could have been if
he had been found guilty, I would be afraid to even guess what
could have possibly happened," Jimmie Reed said.
"It's a tragic situation on everyone's side and we followed
this with great sadness for the athlete and also for the coach
involved," said Marje Albohm, president of the National Athletic
Trainers Association. "It truly puts a focus on the health care of
our high school athletes."
Sheldon Berman, superintendent of Jefferson County Public
Schools, said in a statement that Stinson, who has been working in
a non-instructional position, is now cleared to return to teaching
and eligible to apply for a coaching position. Berman said
administrators would meet with him to determine his future
Associated Press Writers Dylan T. Lovan, Janet Cappiello Blake
and Malcolm C. Knox contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)