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Plancher case reaches Day 10

By Brandi Broxson
On June 26, 2011

Day 10 of the Ereck Plancher wrongful death lawsuit began with objections and arguments between attorneys representing the Plancher family and the UCF Athletics Association (UCFAA). The aggressive behavior between attorneys continued throughout the day.

"It's a ping-pong game, and it eats up tremendous amounts of time," Judge Robert Evans said to the attorneys about the amount of arguing.

The day started with the remaining amount of video testimony from former UCF athletic trainer Robert Jackson. Afterwards, five witnesses were called to testify by Plancher attorneys on Friday.

During questioning from Plancher attorney Steven Yerrid, Jackson said that he did not know that Ereck Plancher had sickle cell trait until after he died.

Jackson was also asked by Yerrid if he had seen Knights head coach George O'Leary go through a profanity-laced tirade before, and Jackson said O'Leary used profanity to get the most out of his players.

Jackson said that he was the only certified athletic trainer at the March 18, 2008 session. When Yerrid asked Jackson how many times he recalled having a number of athletes on the field with one [certified] trainer, Jackson said that he just remembered this one time. Jackson rode in the ambulance with Plancher and said he knew that Plancher had passed away when he left the hospital later that day.

Before the lunch recess Dr. Edward "Randy" Eichner was called to the stand. Eichner has been practicing medicine for 45 years and has studied sickle cell trait for 25 of those years.

Eichner testified that he worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma for 32 years, where he was also responsible for any internal medicine problem that members of the football team had.

While under direct examination by Yerrid, Eichner described sickle cell trait as an inherited condition that increases the likelihood of collapse during exertion. Eichner told the jury how he counseled athletes who had sickle cell trait. Eichner said he told athletes that they should stop at the earliest warning sign. "If you stop early, you'll recover early," Eichner said.

Yerrid asked Eichner how long it takes for sickling to occur in a sickle cell trait athlete, and Eichner said it occurs within two minutes to five minutes of exertion without rest.

Eichner also testified that the conditioning drill was below the standard of care for sickle cell athletes.

"The pace was too fast, rest was too brief and [the] obstacle course was reckless," he said.

Yerrid asked Eichner if UCFAA acted in a manner that was below the accepted manner of care in terms of Plancher's health and safety.

"Yes sir, they did. Coach O'Leary knew he had sickle cell trait and sprang an obstacle course on him," Eichner said.

Eichner testified that an intervention should have occurred before Plancher was released for the obstacle course.

The issue of hydration was also broached during direct examination. Eichner testified that athletes continue to dehydrate as they exercise which increases the degree of sickling.

On cross-examination, UCFAA attorney Dan Shapiro pointed out how much Eichner is being paid by Plancher's attorneys for his time. Eichner responded with $500 an hour. Shapiro added up the time that Eichner has spent on the case. The total amount Eichner has earned thus far for his time totaled $70,000.

Shapiro asked Eichner on cross-examination about how Eichner was "consulting and helping" the medical examiner after the first autopsy was found to be inconclusive. Eichner said he is trying to end deaths of athletes and stood by his decision of contacting medical examiner Josh Stephany about researching sickle cell trait as Plancher's cause of death.

Eichner said he contacted the Orange County medical examiner and suggested he consider exertional sickling as a cause of death after the initial autopsy.

A later autopsy by Stephany concluded that Plancher died from dysrhythmia due to acute exertional rhabdomyolysis with sickle cell trait.

Anise Duprat, Ereck Plancher's aunt, also testified on Friday. Duprat described her relationship with Plancher as very close.

"Like a son to me," Duprat said.

Duprat described Plancher as loving, respectful and a people person. Duprat said that her and her sister heard about Plancher's death on the morning of March 18, 2008 while they were working at Moorings Park nursing home in Naples. Gisele Plancher received the call while at work from UCF officials. Duprat said they told Gisele Plancher that her son was in the hospital. Duprat took her sister home and on the way received a call from Ereck's father, Enock Plancher. Enock told Duprat that Ereck had died.

"I said ‘Lord give me strength so I can take my sister home,'" Duprat said.

Duprat said she helped her sister to the house and put her on the couch where Gisele Plancher passed out. Duprat likened the loss to her sister having lost a part of her body. She testified that the death has had a major effect on the family and that Enock and Gisele no longer celebrate holidays.

Former Knights wide receiver Brian Watters was called to testify by Plancher attorneys about the day Plancher collapsed and later died. Watters testified that O'Leary ordered water and trainers out of the Nicholson Fieldhouse during the March 18, 2008 conditioning session. Watters said this was something O'Leary did to "increase mental toughness". Watters' testimony contradicted what O'Leary testified to on Thursday. O'Leary said during his testimony on Thursday that he never ordered water or trainers out of the fieldhouse on the day of Plancher's death.

Watters testified wide receiver Anthony Davis helped Plancher get through the run coming back from the obstacle course. Watters described Plancher as looking very tired and looking for the next breath. He also said Plancher's eyes were squinting a lot and at one point glazed over. Watters testified that while O'Leary was speaking to players in a huddle, Plancher looked slouched over trying to hold up a knee. Watters said O'Leary singled out Plancher and scolded him for not doing better on the sprints. Watters testified that Plancher was too tired to do "cool-downs" after conditioning and that after Plancher collapsed he was helped out of the fieldhouse by four teammates.

Dr. Daniel Spitz, a pathologist, testified on direct examination that his review of the medical files concluded that Plancher died from complications with sickle cell trait.

During cross-examination, UCFAA attorney Shapiro attempted to discount Spitz's expert knowledge by bringing up a failed autopsy conducted by Spitz in Macomb County, Mich. in 2010 after Spitz failed to find a bullet wound in a skull during an autopsy. Spitz defended himself by saying that the body was very decomposed.

Dr. Daniel Spitz is the son of Dr. Werner Spitz, an expert who testified in the Casey Anthony trial just 11 floors above the Plancher trial courtroom.

On Monday, the jury will take a trip to UCF where jurors will tour Nicholson Fieldhouse where Plancher had his final workout.

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