UCF coach George O'Leary defended his actions during football player Ereck Plancher's final workout, testifying Thursday that he never ordered athletic trainers and water be removed from the building.
O'Leary and his staff supervised Plancher's final workout. Plancher, a 19-year-old wide receiver, collapsed and died shortly after offseason conditioning drills on the UCF campus March 18, 2008.
Orange County associate medical examiner Joshua Stephany previously testified complications from sickle cell trait caused Plancher's death. Stephany told jurors when the body is put through extreme stress, the trait causes red blood cells to become sticky and quickly damage key organs.
Former UCF football players Anthony Davis and Cody Minnich, who participated in the workout on March 18, 2008, testified O'Leary ordered the athletic trainers and water be removed from the building. They stated no one intervened or provided Plancher with water when he showed signs of distress during the workout.
O'Leary was aggressively questioned by Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid for more than three hours during the ninth day of the Plancher wrongful death trial. O'Leary's appearance drew a large crowd, filling every seat in the Orange County court room.
Yerrid asked O'Leary whether it would be a "reckless disregard" a player's welfare if athletic trainers were ordered to leave. O'Leary responded, "That is not a `yes' or `no' answer because I was there March 18 and no one was ordered out of the fieldhouse -- trainer or water."
Yerrid also asked whether it would be a reckless act to withhold water from an athlete. O'Leary responded, "It wouldn't be a very responsible act."
O'Leary testified head football athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden told him Plancher had sickle cell trait. The coach stated he was informed when all players tested positive for the trait and was aware he should watch for signs of distress among those athletes, but he relied on the athletic trainers to counsel athletes about the condition and handle any medical emergencies.
Before O'Leary took the stand, the Plancher attorneys played video highlights of Vander Heiden's depositions for the jury. When she was asked whether she informed Plancher he had sickle cell trait, she responded, "I can't say with certainty that yes I did or no I didn't."
Vander Heiden stated there was no written record she told Plancher he had the trait.
When O'Leary was asked if he thought it was critically important Plancher be informed he had the trait, the coach said, "yes, it was."
O'Leary said he was not a sickle cell trait expert, but he did understand it had been tied to athlete deaths.
Plancher family attorneys contend the football player was never informed he tested positive for the condition that the medical examiner stated caused his death.
UCFAA attorneys argue Plancher was told he had the trait and the medical examiner failed to do a thorough autopsy, missing an undiagnosed heart condition that caused the player's death.
Vander Heiden and O'Leary both testified they thought Robert Jackson, the sole certified athletic trainer present during Plancher's final workout, knew Plancher had sickle cell trait. Vander Heiden said she was "shocked" Jackson stated he was not aware of Plancher's condition.
O'Leary and Vander Heiden, who was not at the workout but helped provide emergency care afterward, defended their treatment of Plancher.
The coach said it is important to remove a player with sickle cell trait from a workout if he has a problem, but O'Leary added he never saw signs Plancher was in distress during the conditioning drills.
O'Leary reiterated his previous statements that he viewed the drills as a "non-taxing workout." Former players have testified it was among the toughest offseason workouts they had ever done and a lot of athletes were throwing up during the agility drills.
While the two former players said Plancher was berated for collapsing during sprints near the end of the workout, O'Leary said he Plancher tripped and stumbled but completed the drill.