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Defense Makes Case

Attorney in Wheeler wrongful death suit identifies Northwestern players who had supplements in lockers.

January 28, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Three Northwestern University football teammates of the late Rashidi Wheeler were identified in a court hearing Monday as those whose lockers contained supplements banned by the NCAA.

Defending a wrongful death suit brought by Wheeler's family, Northwestern attorney Eric Quandt said running back Kevin Lawrence, linebacker Billy Silva and guard Matt Ulrich had the ephedrine-containing product Ultimate Orange in their lockers on Aug. 3, 2001 -- the day Wheeler collapsed during a conditioning drill and later died.

Quandt did not provide evidence that Wheeler ingested the supplements. But he met Cook County (Ill.) Judge Kathy Flanagan's request to reveal which players had the supplements in their lockers and which school officials found the canisters of the drink mix and tablets.

Northwestern contends Wheeler's use of the supplements contributed to his death, which was ruled by the Cook County coroner to be caused by exercise-induced bronchial asthma. The university, arguing ephedrine-containing products have in other cases led to catastrophic health events, wants supplement makers Next Nutrition and Cytodyne Technologies to be made co-defendants.

The coroner noted Wheeler, a 22-year-old strong safety from La Verne Damien High, had a trace of ephedrine in his system. His mother, Linda Will, said that might have come from an asthma medication. She contends Wheeler, a chronic asthmatic, died as a result of gross negligence -- that the drill of 28 wind sprints was excessive and university officials failed to effectively treat him and summon emergency care after his collapse.

Quandt has said he will produce eyewitnesses who will say Wheeler ingested Ultimate Orange before the workout. For now, he said the locker-room presence of the supplements is reasonable cause to conduct tests of their effects. Flanagan last week called Quandt's revelation of the locker-room supplements a surprising "bomb" in the case, reprimanding him for delaying the information and ordering him to provide names by Monday.

Jim Montgomery, Wheeler's attorney, said Scott Arey, Northwestern's assistant director of athletic facilities, testified that he and a subcontractor opened all of the players' combination-locked lockers days after Wheeler's death.

Equipment manager Bill Jarvis and assistant athletic trainer Nichelle Pajeau found:

One canister of Ultimate Orange drink mix and one package of Ultimate Orange tablets in Silva's locker.

Two canisters of Ultimate Orange drink mix in Lawrence's locker. One was full, the other was three-quarters full, Pajeau said.

One canister of Ultimate Orange drink mix in Ulrich's locker that was three-quarters full.

The canisters were eventually turned over to a private investigator hired by Northwestern's attorneys, Montgomery said. Montgomery said Jarvis oversaw the removal of Wheeler's personal belongings from his locker by his older brother, George, and his aunt, Kim Will. Jarvis said the items removed included an unidentified small white bottle with a white label and an unidentified 4-by-8-inch black cardboard box with a red label.

"All I know is his locker had a prescribed medication that fits the description of the white bottle," Montgomery said. "I have no idea about the black box."

Ultimate Orange canisters are orange and blue.

"They still have no evidence Rashidi ingested the supplements," Montgomery said. "It does not seem to me they have anything of relevance to test these products." Quandt declined Monday to comment on the court proceedings.

Montgomery and partner Johnnie Cochran Jr. will take depositions from Northwestern Coach Randy Walker and Athletic Director Rick Taylor on Friday. Montgomery said Monday's disclosures will result in "an additional question or two to them about what they knew about their team's use of these supplements."

At any time Flanagan can announce a ruling on Northwestern's motion to test the supplements. She set the case's next status hearing for Feb. 19.

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