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Wheeler's mother to seek 'substantial' damages

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The mother of Northwestern football player Rashidi Wheeler plans to file a lawsuit against the university later this week seeking "substantial" damages over his death in a preseason conditioning drill.

The university, meanwhile, outlined for the first time Tuesday the extent of its review into Wheeler's death. In addition to investigating whether any NCAA rules were violated, Northwestern is evaluating its emergency medical procedures and staffing at drills and practices.

"I want a full, honest, clear and transparent report," Northwestern president Henry Bienen said. "I will insist on it and I will get it."

Wheeler, a chronic asthmatic, collapsed during an Aug. 3
preseason conditioning drill involving a series of wind sprints. He
was pronounced dead a short time later at Evanston Hospital.

Bronchial asthma was listed as the cause of death.

Linda Will, Wheeler's mother, has said the university wasn't prepared to deal with such an emergency during what was supposed to be a voluntary preseason workout. Her attorney, James Montgomery, said he plans to file a lawsuit Friday naming the university as well as trainers and staff who were at the drill.

Coach Randy Walker and athletics director Rick Taylor will not be
named, Montgomery said.

When Wheeler collapsed, Montgomery said there was no oxygen on the field and it took as long as 40 minutes for paramedics to be called.

"We think that that is indicative of a lack of care and negligence that absolutely contributed to and caused this young man's death," Montgomery said.

When paramedics were called, Montgomery said they arrived within three to four minutes.

"That three to four minutes, if it had come at the very beginning of his collapse, in our judgment he would be alive today," Montgomery said.

Tory Aggeler, Northwestern's head athletic trainer, has said
that Wheeler had more than 30 asthma attacks in his three years at
the university. With that kind of history, Montgomery said
Northwestern medical staff should have known how to treat Wheeler.

Instead, he referred to an Evanston Police report on the incident that indicates a trainer gave Wheeler a bag to breathe into, thinking he was hyperventilating. The opposite was the case, Montgomery said, as Wheeler was really gasping for breath.

"(It was) an incorrect diagnosis and a fatal treatment," Montgomery said.

Northwestern has refused to comment on Will's claims. Though the university review began within days of Wheeler's death, Bienen declined to reveal what's been learned, saying he'll wait until the entire report is done.

He did say, though, that more than 85 people already have been
interviewed, including players, trainers, university emergency personnel and outside medical officials.

Besides trying to determine exactly what happened the day
Wheeler died, the review is examining:

  • medical staffing at drills and practices.

  • what emergency procedures were in place and how they were
    followed.

  • players' use of nutritional supplements.

  • how Northwestern's conditioning program compares to those at
    other Division I schools.

  • whether any NCAA violations occurred in conducting the drill.

    Findings of the review will be made public when it's complete. Bienen didn't have a timetable for when that might be.

    "I don't want to prejudge what happened, whether violations of NCAA rules took place," Bienen said. "If they took place, we will assess who committed the violations and under what circumstances. But I am not going to prejudge either what did happen or what the consequences might be."

    Will and others have suggested the drill violated NCAA rules,
    saying it wasn't really voluntary. The NCAA in April tightened the
    definition of a voluntary offseason workout: players must initiate
    the workout; no information about the workout is recorded or
    reported to coaches; and players are not punished for refusing to
    participate or given incentives to participate.

    The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who is working with Will, said the NCAA and other schools should learn from Wheeler's death.

    "The question is, will the NCAA enforce the rules at all schools?" Jackson said. "What's different at Northwestern is a student died and therefore it illuminates the program."