ORLANDO, Fla. — The University of Central Florida's football coach testified Thursday that he did not see a football player under stress during a spring training practice before he collapsed and died.
Coach George O'Leary also said no one ordered water or trainers out of the fieldhouse.
Two UCF football players have testified that O'Leary ordered all water and trainers off the field. Nineteen-year-old Ereck Plancher fell, gasped for breath, could not respond verbally and was unable to stand on his own before he was carried off the field after the practice ended.
Attorneys for Plancher's parents say the UCF Athletics Association is responsible for their son's death. They filed a lawsuit seeking punitive damages and are trying to prove that coaches pushed him excessively at the practice despite knowing he had sickle cell trait.
Attorneys for the UCFAA say that Plancher died from a congenital heart defect and no one could have prevented his death. O'Leary and UCF officials deny having any culpability in Plancher's death.
O'Leary said he knew Plancher had sickle cell trait and described the March 18, 2008 workout as "non-taxing."
An autopsy found that Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait, a condition that causes blood cells to become misshapen and disrupt the body's vascular system when it's put under extreme stress.
Also Thursday, Mary Vander Heiden, head trainer, testified via a video deposition that she could not say with certainty that she told Plancher he tested positive for sickle cell trait. Attorneys for the Plancher family say Ereck Plancher was never informed about the condition or counseled about the complications associated with sickle cell trait.
Vander Heiden was in her office when Plancher collapsed and assistant trainer Robbie Jackson was on the field. The head trainer said she told Jackson about the diagnosis and was shocked to hear Jackson said in a deposition that he did not know Plancher had sickle cell trait. The plaintiffs claim that UCFAA did not follow proper medical protocol for a sickle cell athlete in distress.
Vander Heiden said that when an athlete shows signs of sickling they should be pulled from the exercise, given fluids and oxygen and a call should be made to 911. It is the trainer's responsibility to see that the protocol is followed, she said.
Plancher was never pulled from the activity but Jackson gave him water outside the fieldhouse after he was carried to a bench by teammates. Oxygen was available but never administered. A coach called for her assistance. She called 911 after Plancher showed a slow and weak heart rate. Paramedics arrived about three minutes later, she said.