ATLANTA (AP) — The parents of a Georgia high school basketball player who collapsed while practicing outdoors in sweltering heat and later died announced Tuesday that they have agreed to a $10 million settlement with the school district.
As part of the settlement, the Clayton County school system agreed to rename the gymnasium at Elite Scholars Academy for Imani Bell, who was a 16-year-old junior at the school when she died. A ceremony was set to be held Tuesday afternoon to commemorate that renaming, the family's lawyers said.
Imani's father, Eric Bell, called the renaming of the gym a “great honor,” but said the settlement is “bittersweet.”
“We'd trade everything to have her back here with us,” he said in a phone interview.
Imani collapsed on Aug. 13, 2019, after running up the football stadium steps during required conditioning drills for the girls' basketball team, her family said in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against administrators at the school. The temperature was in the high 90s Fahrenheit (more than 35 degrees Celsius) at the time and the area was under a heat advisory.
Imani died later that day from heat-related cardiac arrest and kidney failure, the lawsuit said. An autopsy done by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found that she had no preexisting conditions and her death was due solely to heatstroke caused by strenuous physical exertion in extreme temperatures, the family's lawyers said.
Two coaches, Larosa Walker-Asekere and Dwight Palmer, were indicted in July 2021 on charges including murder and child cruelty in Imani’s death. That criminal case is ongoing.
Imani's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in February 2021. Online court records show that suit was settled last month. An attorney for the family, L. Chris Stewart, said the significant settlement amount sends a message to other school districts.
“It sends a nationwide message to every school district and every athletic program ... that the lives of our children matter over athletics, and every district needs to realize that no child should die from heat exhaustion," he said. "We salute Clayton County for sending that message nationwide.”
A Clayton County Public Schools statement released Tuesday said the district is pleased to have reached “the best possible resolution of this tragic case.”
"We have all lost a wonderful student. The attention this afternoon is rightfully on her legacy. The School District stands with the community in its commitment to the education and safety of its students,” the statement said.
Imani's family has started the Keep Imani Foundation, which their lawyers said will be funded in part by funds from the settlement. Eric Bell said it will offer scholarships for students and will help schools get cold tubs to help prevent heat stroke deaths.
Bell said he wants to send a message to school officials: “Keep educating coaches, keep educating students about the dangers of heat and humidity, and try to be prepared for a situation like this.”