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Two H.S. basketball coaches charged with murder in player's heat-related death

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Two Atlanta-area high school coaches were charged with murder in the death of 16-year-old basketball player Imani Bell, who died of a heat stroke after an outdoor practice nearly two years ago.

A Clayton County grand jury returned an indictment charging Larosa Maria Walker-Asekere and Dwight Broom Palmer with second-degree murder, second-degree cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.

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The grand jury indictment states the pair of coaches caused "excessive physical pain by conducting outdoor conditioning training for student-athletes in dangerous heat," which resulted in Bell's death.

Bell, who was a junior at Elite Scholars Academy in Jonesboro, Ga., was participating in mandatory conditioning drills Aug. 13, 2019, when she collapsed after running up football stadium stairs in temperatures that climbed into the high 90s.

Walker-Asekere was the head basketball coach, and Palmer was an assistant coach. Both were at the practice and had been in charge of the drills.

Bell's parents, Eric and Dorian, told Good Morning America that their daughter's death could have been prevented if protocols were properly followed.

"To see Imani on a hospital bed ... I couldn't just grasp it at the time. And it's still hard now, you know, just to even talk about it," Dorian Bell said in the interview that aired Wednesday.

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Eric Bell, who coaches basketball at a different school, said he decided to cancel his own team's practice that same day because of the heat.

"It's just a sad situation because protocols were in place. If the protocols were followed, we wouldn't be here talking to you today," he said. "But the protocols were not followed, and with that being the case, the decision was made.

"And with that decision being made, a tragic accident happened and forever changed our lives. We don't want this to happen to anybody else."

In February, Imani Bell's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against school administrators.

The suit stated the defendants "observed Imani experiencing early signs of heat illness during the outdoor practice but nevertheless directed Imani to continue performing the conditioning drills with her team and directed Imani to run up the stadium steps."

After collapsing, she was transported to the hospital, where she later died of heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure. According to the lawsuit, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's autopsy found that her death was attributable to the extreme heat and strenuous physical activity.

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"In keeping with Clayton County Public Schools practices and protocols, the school system does not comment on personnel matters or pending/ongoing litigation," a district spokesperson said in a statement.

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