Former UCF football player Anthony Davis told a jury coach George O'Leary ordered athletic trainers and water be removed from the fieldhouse during Ereck Plancher's final workout.
Davis was the second UCF football player to testify no one intervened when Plancher showed signs of distress during March 18, 2008 conditioning drills on the UCF campus. Plancher died shortly after the workout.
UCF Athletics Association attorney Kevin Taylor cross examined Davis, aiming to highlight at least five inconsistencies between his previous sworn statements and his testimony to the jury.
Davis told the jury Monday after the football team completed a series of agility drills on March 18, 2008, O'Leary ordered the coaches to start assembling an obstacle course. Davis said O'Leary appeared to be angry and yelled, "I want water and trainers out of here."
When he was asked to describe O'Leary's demeanor, Davis said, "He was red. He was yelling."
Taylor asked Davis why he left what seemed like major details, including O'Leary's order to remove trainers and water from the fieldhouse, out of his April 18, 2008, sworn statement to a UCF attorney.
Davis responded that O'Leary told the players before they gave their sworn statements "these people don't care about you" and to "keep it simple." Davis said Manny Messengeur, who currently works as O'Leary's personal assistant, was in the room while the UCF attorney was taking his statement. Davis said he didn't know Messengeur's exact role with the team at the time, but he recalled that he was friends with O'Leary. Davis said he was concerned anything he said during the sworn statements would be relayed to O'Leary.
"I had a stranger looking at me, monitoring what I am saying," Davis said.
Davis appeared mostly on the UCF special teams unit and completed his eligibility at the end of the 2008 season. He now works for the Boys and Girls Club.He said he never lied during any of his sworn statements.
Davis said he was asked one broad question on April 18, 2008, about what happened the day Plancher died. He said he provided more specific information when he was asked by attorneys during two subsequent depositions and his testimony Monday.
Gisele Plancher, Ereck Plancher's mother, wiped away tears while Davis described Plancher's final workout. Davis and Plancher were both wide receivers on the team and went through the entire workout together.
He said the Knights lifted weights, then quickly changed their shoes before going to the indoor practice facility. Davis said the team did three agility stations inside the fieldhouse -- back peddling and sprinting in different directions based on coaches' instructions, jumping over bags about 12 inches high and doing a shuttle drill around cones. He said the players had to sprint between each drill.
O'Leary then began setting up what Davis described as an intense obstacle course the team had never done before.
Davis said the team's only opportunity to drink water during the workout was between the time players left the weight room and entered the indoor practice facility.
He said the obstacle course included more agility drills, including hopping over mats and weaving through cones. The course spanned 200 yards, with players quickly going from one end zone to the other and back to the beginning.
Davis said Plancher was in distress during the obstacle course and Davis had to help him complete his second run through the course.
During cross examination, Davis said he recalled receiver Jamar Newsome also assisting Plancher.
Taylor, the UCFAA attorney, asked Davis why he didn't mention that in his first sworn statement.
Davis responded that he was asked a broad and general question about what happened that day. During all subsequent depositions and testimony, Davis said he was asked specific questions during his depositions.
Davis said following the obstacle course, he could tell Plancher was in distress.
"You could see his eyes almost as though they were rolling in the back of his head," Davis said.
He said the team then lined up to do gassers, which are sprints from the sideline to sideline that must be completed in 18 seconds. Davis said Plancher lined up with the sophomores and fell immediately. Davis said he did not think Plancher tripped or stub his toe, instead falling because he was tired. Davis said players on the sideline were moving to help him up, but the coaches ordered them to step back and cursed at Plancher to get up. Davis said Plancher slowly finished the drill last.
"It was scary, pretty much to me, in my opinion," Davis said. "Actually seeing him like that, not being able to help , hearing the language I heard, it made it seemed he was pretty much on his own and there was nothing anyone could do."
Davis was asked why he never called an athletic trainer for help when he saw Plancher in distress. Davis said he thought Plancher would recover.
Davis said the team gathered for a huddle around O'Leary and the players were ordered back to do one more sprint, but the receiver said he could not recall why they were sent back to run again. Davis said the group returned to do a huddle and then did four jumping jacks before ending the workout. He demonstrated to the jury that Plancher didn't have the strength to do the jumping jacks properly, weakly raising his arms.
Davis said Plancher collapsed soon after the jumping jacks and Davis said he was among the players to help carry him out of the fieldhouse.Davis said O'Leary called a team meeting on the afternoon of March 18, 2008, and informed the players Plancher had died.
During cross examination, Davis was asked to describe O'Leary's demeanor. When he couldn't remember, Davis was asked to refer to his April 28, 2008, sworn statement and Davis confirmed he previously stated O'Leary was crying when he broke the news to the team.
The judge told the jury that they could not weigh any signs of O'Leary's remorse about Plancher's death as they considered the facts in the case.
Douglas Casa, a kinesiology professor and certified athletic trainer at the University of Connecticut hired to serve as an expert witness by the Plancher family, was cross examined by UCFAA attorneys Monday morning. Casa said based on his review of depositions by players, coaches and athletic trainers, he thought water and trainers were in the fieldhouse during Plancher's last workout. However, Casa said it was his opinion the water wasn't easily accessible to the players and the athletic trainers response was "below the standard of care."
He cited at least seven player depositions indicating Plancher showed signs of distress or abnormally lagged behind his teammates during the workout. Casa said athletic trainer Robert Jackson should stepped in to treat Plancher because he tested positive for sickle cell trait.
"If it was that obvious he was struggling, he should have had medical care tend to him during or at the end of the obstacle course," Casa said.
He acknowledged there have been no randomized clinical trials proving sickle cell trait causes sudden death in athletes, but he said there is growing clinical evidence with more than 20 deaths of athletes tied to complications from the trait since 2000.
"I think the case studies are giving us invaluable information," Casa said.
Shapiro asked Casa to review the 2001 NCAA guidelines on sickle cell trait, which were in effect when Plancher died. Shapiro asked whether the NCAA instruction stated "no sports medicine body has found evidence linking sickle cell trait to sudden death in athletes." Casa agreed Shapiro was accurately quoting the 2001 guidelines.
Shapiro began his cross examination by methodically tallying up the amount Casa expected to charge for providing his opinion in the case. Casa agreed he could potentially charge about $50,000 for reviewing records during the past three years and providing his expert testimony.
When Casa was asked whether he "views your role being objective," Casa responded yes.
It is the second time Shapiro has asked Plancher family expert witnesses how much they were compensated for testimony. Evans told the jury at the beginning of the trial that they would hear from a number of witnesses who were paid for the testimony and the jury should not let it impact the way they view their testimony.
Shapiro used a dry erase board and a large paper notepad to write highlights of Casa's responses to his questions.
The use of the visual aids prompted a number of objections by the Plancher attorneys. The judge instructed UCFAA attorneys to take them down when they weren't in immediate use and to point them to the witness instead of toward the jury.
Casa agreed with Shapiro when he said sudden death can occur in athletes when athletes receive proper care and all policies are observed.
Shapiro asked Casa whether he agreed football athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden informed Plancher had sickle cell trait. Casa responded, no.
"She said she couldn't specifically remember having done it," Casa said. "She wasn't firm about it all. You didn't have any confidence about it." Shapiro referred to sections of Vander Heiden's deposition that stated she believed she told Plancher he tested positive and she believed she followed policy and procedures to inform him of the positive test.
Casa responded, "she can't give any specific information and it's not documented. I don't see why you'd ever think she told him." He later added "most of the policy and procedures weren't followed with regard to sickle cell trait."
The athletic trainer spent extensive time answering questions about his opinion that UCFAA was "woefully understaffed." Casa noted UCFAA did not have a full-time physician on staff. He said the physician could educate all athletic trainers, coaches and players about sickle cell trait and its the potential impact on athletes. Shapiro asked Casa whether National Athletic Trainers Association, NCAA or state of Florida guidelines require schools to have full-time physicians and Casa responded they do not. Casa also agreed with Shapiro when he said there was never a time UCF athletic trainers could not call on volunteer physicians for assistance. However, Casa stressed that those physicians helped with medical emergencies and not education of people within the program.
Casa was asked about the sickle cell trait testing policies at the University of Connecticut, where he teaches. Casa said he does not work in the athletic department and solely works as a professor in the kinesiology department, but he is aware the school does not test for sickle cell trait.
Before the jury entered the courtroom, Evans ruled Monday morning the UCF Athletics Association can give the jury a tour of the UCF football complex.
Evans said he reviewed UCFAA's request to show the jury the UCF weight room and indoor practice facility, the locations of Plancher's final workout.
The judge stated the jury could not be transported in a UCF bus, no one could speak to the jurors while they were on the campus and the time spent taking the site visit would count against UCFAA's time to present its case.
Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid objected to the tour, stating it would be impossible to duplicate conditions on the day of Plancher's death. While players speaking on behalf of UCFAA are expected to testify the fans were on during Plancher's final workout, others are expected to testify the fans were off and the doors were closed.
Evans said he noted the Plancher family attorneys' objections and suggested a representative from their side could tour the facility before the jury's visit.
"I think it's a reasonable request and it will help the jurors understand what both sides are talking about," Evans said.
The judge released the jury at about 5:30 p.m. Monday, giving the UCFAA attorneys extra time to finish cross examining Davis. The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
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