Attorney: School knew of record heat, held outdoor practice where Georgia teen died
Tuesday was one of the hottest days of the year in Georgia, and 16-year-old Imani Bell's family now believes she was out in the middle of it, doing conditioning drills at a basketball practice she would have felt she had no choice but to attend.
Bell, a junior at Elite Scholars Academy, collapsed at that practice and died later that evening.
Justin Miller, the cousin of Bell's mother as well as an attorney at the firm that is now representing the family, told 11Alive's Joe Henke of the heartbreaking loss and the conditions that led to it.
He also said the family "will most likely file a lawsuit."
Bell, a two-sport athlete with impeccable grades who danced at church and volunteered because she wanted to help others - the "classic good kid," Miller said - was being asked to run around a track and up and down hills in heat that topped 100 degrees on the day she died, Miller said.
He said the basketball team was doing conditioning drills that players would have seen as mandatory and that the school knew they were happening.
"Being a former basketball player myself, I know those practices are mandatory, you can't just not go," he said. "They're for the team to go out and get conditioned for the season, so I'm not sure exactly what the coach told them but yeah she had to be there, that's our understanding."
He added that they didn't know exactly what the school knows about where the team was practicing or how long but "we know that the school knew they were practicing."
He said the coach "had them on the track conditioning on what is on record as the hottest day of 2019, at the hottest time on the hottest day of 2019."
"There was a heat advisory, people should not be outside for longer than 20 minutes at a time, if you have dogs bring your dogs in," he said. "And so, for her to be out there in that heat was very, very problematic."
Elite Scholars Academy is a part of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) which has strict practice policies for heat and humidity.
The policy notes that there shouldn't be outdoor workouts if a measurement known as wet-bulb globe temperature is over 92.0. At that point, practices cannot be held outdoors.
It's unclear what the exact reading for Tuesday was, but GHSA says a wet-bulb reading of more than 92 is somewhat comparable to a heat index reading of 104 or 105 degrees.
According to National Weather Service data, the heat index around Atlanta on Tuesday at about 5 p.m. was 105.
He said the family understands that the drills involved running around a track, and at least one other that involved running up and down a hill.
"If the school has given that a thumbs up, then the school is going to have some issues down the road," Miller said. "It's not good common-sensically, it's not good legally, the Georgia High School Association doesn't sanction it, the school district shouldn't allow it."
"It ultimately led to my cousin's death, so we know it's ridiculous and we're going to get all those answers," he added.
Miller said the family seeks justice through every avenue possible.
"Every legal action that we can take, will be taken. All legal recourse is open and on the table," he said. "We're not going to let them brush this under the rug or try to deflect it. This was clearly wrong."