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Claims Filed Over Injury

Parents of Gabrielino High player, who has been in a coma since Oct. 4, allege improper helmet inflation, insufficient medical attention.

November 01, 2002|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The family of a San Gabriel Gabrielino High football player who has been in a coma since sustaining a head injury during a game Oct. 4 has filed claims against two school districts, alleging Andrew Castillo was injured because his helmet was improperly inflated and that there was insufficient medical attention provided at the game.

Castillo, a 16-year-old junior, complained of blurred vision, dizziness and a headache during a timeout in the fourth quarter of a nonleague game against Burbank at Burbank Burroughs High. He was sent to the sideline by a coach, collapsed within minutes and has not regained consciousness.

Teammates said Castillo, who suffered bleeding in the brain, had complained earlier in the game that he didn't have enough air in his helmet and that he had headaches. Gabrielino Coach Vince Lopez said the team usually has an air pump on the sideline during games, but it could not be located that night.

Castillo's family filed government tort claims, which preclude a lawsuit brought against government institutions, with San Gabriel Unified School District and Burbank Unified School District. The family did not set a monetary value to the claims.

The districts' boards have 45 days to accept or reject the claims. If the claims are rejected -- a typical outcome -- "the litigation starts," said Dana McCune, a Los Angeles-based lawyer representing the San Gabriel school district.

The California Interscholastic Federation, the sanctioning body for the state's high schools, leaves medical preparedness at regular-season games under the auspices of the schools and their districts.

In the playoffs, the CIF mandates licensed physicians along the sidelines.

"Paramedics were supposed to be there, but they had left to take a call," said Gary A. Dordick, a Beverly Hills-based attorney hired by Castillo's parents, Joe Castillo and Maria Garcia. "In this case, the problem is the complete lack of any medical attention during the game.... It doesn't appear they had anyone there looking out for the kids."

The claims also state that Castillo, who started at fullback and linebacker, suffered a serious blow earlier in the game but was not taken out despite complaining of headaches. Lopez said coaches decided at halftime to use Castillo only on defense. Lopez also said Castillo did not make the primary hit on any of the tackles that directly preceded him leaving the game.

"There is at least one significant impact where he's airborne [earlier in the game]," Dordick said. "He was complaining of head pain and dizziness throughout the majority of the game, from the second quarter on. When you have players who are showing obvious signs of a head injury, you should have medical personnel check them before they go back into the game."

The San Gabriel school district has begun an investigation into Castillo's injury that has included interviews with players and coaches.

The investigation will range from "the equipment, including but not limited to the helmet, to technique, to preexisting health issues," McCune said.

Castillo's parents do not know of any preexisting medical conditions that may have contributed to the player's injuries, Dordick said.

Castillo was taken from the field to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where he has undergone two surgeries to remove blood clots in his brain and another surgery to remove a clot in his leg. His condition was recently upgraded from critical to serious.

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