UCF Athletics Association attorneys aimed to discredit the medical examiner who testified complications from sickle cell trait contributed to Ereck Plancher's death.
Medical examiner Joshua Stephany told the jury Plancher's death was caused by complications from sickle cell trait. He said it is a genetic disorder that can cause red blood cells to break down organs when the body is under extreme stress.
He told the jury Plancher's sickle cell trait caused sickling, or malformation, of red blood cells. Stephany said the cells become flattened and are shaped like sickles. He said the cells become sticky and do not move easily through capillaries. Stephany said "sickle cell trait can become very harmful."
UCFAA attorneys have argued Stephany's conclusion was incorrect, and Plancher's death was caused by an undiagnosed heart condition. They contend the jury should find no one was negligent for the 19-year-old's death following an offseason UCF football workout.
Stephany said he considered whether Plancher's death was caused by a heart problem, but the medical examiner said Plancher died an hour after he first showed signs of distress and had a weak pulse for much of that time. Stephany said that would not be consistent with a "sudden instantaneous cardiac event."
UCF coach George O'Leary was scheduled to testify Wednesday in the Plancher wrongful death trial, but the Plancher family attorneys told the judge after a lunch break they did not think they could call him to the stand until Thursday.
UCFAA attorney Kevin Taylor told Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans O'Leary had a scheduling conflict and would only be available Thursday morning.
Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid said he would do his best to call O'Leary at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and question him, but he did not want to compromise the presentation of his case. Yerrid said he understood O'Leary's coaching clinic scheduled for Thursday and Friday was important, but his clients had been waiting three years for the trial and deserved a fair chance to present their case.
After the medical examiner's testimony ran longer than expected, Yerrid told the judge there was no way he could call O'Leary in the morning. He said needed to play video highlights of athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden before calling O'Leary.
Despite Taylor's objections, the judge ruled O'Leary may be called later on Thursday.
"I can't let his schedule dictate this trial," Evans said. "He cannot do it. We moved [the trial] from football season because football is an issue. Everyone has a busy schedule. Everyone. "
O'Leary supervised Plancher's final workout on March 18, 2008. Plancher collapsed and died after offseason conditioning drills.
UCFAA attorney Dan Shapiro cross examined the medical examiner, questioning whether he did a thorough review of Plancher's body before reaching his conclusion about the cause of Plancher's death.
Stephany said he had no experience sickle cell trait before Plancher's death. He also confirmed Plancher was the first person out of more than 1,000 autopsies whose death he determined was related to sickle cell trait.
Shapiro broke down each portion of Stephany's finding Plancher's death was caused by "dysrhythmia due to acute exertional rhabdomyolysis with sickle cell trait."
Shapiro asked Stephany about the way he studied Plancher's body to prove acute exertional rhabdomyolysis, which is muscle breakdown.
The medical examiner said there are a number of ways to determine whether muscle breakdown occurred. He said he studied myoglobin in a sample of Plancher's blood, which indicated there was muscle breakdown. Myoglobin is protein found in muscle tissue.
Stephany agreed that myoglobin in the blood increases after death. He also agreed there was no way to prove whether the myoglobin levels used to prove muscle breakdown happened before Plancher died.
Stephany said he did not use any other laboratory tests to prove the muscle breakdown, but he did use supplementary information.