Garden City Community College has broken its silence and released a summary of an internal investigation into the death of a New Jersey football player after a practice in August 2018.
Braeden Bradforth died of exertional heat stroke, according to an autopsy, two days after arriving in Garden City from his home in Neptune, New Jersey. Former GCCC head coach Jeff Sims initially said the 19-year-old died from a blood clot.
The summary leads with the weather stressing that it was 84 degrees during the evening practice "cooler than the average historic temperature of 91 degrees." It also says there was plenty to drink at the practice. "Head Trainer Horton reported that there were sixty (60) gallons of water, ten (10) ice towels" plus a supply of Gatorade, according to the summary.
The page and a half summary doesn't add much to what has already been reported by KCUR and other news organizations in Garden City, New York and New Jersey. It never says whether the players were given water breaks or told to drink fluids. Players have said that Sims denied them water during conditioning drills.
Johnny Jean, a safety from Florida, was among them. “When we first started, I thought they were crazy. I ain’t never been at practice when they said we couldn’t get water,” Jean told KCUR.
Jean also said Bradforth struggled during practice. But the summary says neither the head trainer nor Coach Sims "ever noticed Braeden drop a knee to the ground, or complain about the drills."
As the rest of the Garden City team headed to a meeting, Bradforth walked toward the dorm. Here the summary is inconsistent with the coroner's investigation.
The GCCC summary says an assistant coach saw Bradforth "walking in the direction of the dorm" and "asked him if he was quitting." Bradforth didn't "respond with words" but, in the opinion of the coach, shook his head in disappointment.
However, the coroner's investigation says it was the head trainer who asked if Bradforth was all right. "He was refusing to answer the athletic trainer," according to the coroner's report.
There is no attribution in the summary and no list of witnesses interviewed, although it appears that only coaches and the head trainer were interviewed.
"In my opinion, this report makes a mockery of Braeden's death," family lawyer Jill Greene said in a letter to GCCC's attorney Randy Grisell. "It's self-serving fluff," she told KCUR.
Neither the campus police nor the Garden City police investigated Bradforth's death. GCCC appointed Athletic Director Colin Lamb to conduct the probe. "I don't know what his experience is," says Greene. "I'm going to assume none."
The summary notes GCCC has taken several steps to improve safety, including hiring an additional trainer, training all coaches in CPR and first aid and developing a protocol to recognize and treat heat-related illnesses.
This all comes on the heels of a letter from the 12-member New Jersey U.S. House delegation to GCCC President Ryan Ruda, calling on the school to have an independent investigation done. "Such an investigation should include, at a minimum, a review of health and safety practices of the GCCC athletic department and football program, eyewitness accounts of any players, coaches and training staff present when Braeden suffered his heat stroke, and the response of the college's leadership," the letter said.
So far, GCCC hasn't responded to this letter, according to a spokesman for Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) who represents Neptune.