After months of rejecting pleas from a grieving mother, lawyers and politicians for transparency, the Kansas college where a former Neptune High Scool football standout died of heatstroke last summer has finally yielded to the intense pressure, agreeing to conduct an independent investigation into the incident.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Trustees of Garden City Community College authorized an external probe into the tragic events that unfolded on Aug. 1, resulting in the death of Braeden Bradforth after a strenuous practice.
Neptune’s Braeden Bradforth died of heat stroke last summer playing football at a Kansas college. His family has been trying to get answers ever since.
Stephen Edelson, @steveedelsonAPP
“It’s incredible. Stunning. We’re very excited,” said Jill Elaine Greene, the Avon attorney representing Bradforth’s mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram. “It’s been a long time coming . Hopefully this will produce an objective, honest report and answer the question Joanne has had since the start.”
The move came during a regularly scheduled meeting of the board of trustees.
A statement released by the school states: “After a time of advisement from counsel, the GCCC Board of trustees has authorized President (Ryan) Ruda and college attorney Randy Grisell to begin the process of retaining outside counsel for the purpose of conducting an independent, external investigation into the August 1, 2018, death of GCCC student-athlete Braeden Bradforth. The Board also stipulated that retention of counsel and the investigation are not to exceed $100,000.”
The school conducted an internal investigation into the incident, completed earlier this year, but refused to release it to the public. Instead, the college released a nine-paragraph summary of the investigation earlier this month that exonerated the school of any wrong doing, while listing steps it has taken, or will be taking, to improve the safety of student-athletes.
Neither the campus police nor the Garden City Police Department conducted an investigation into Bradforth’s death.
The move to seek beyond the internal inquiry, which was conducted by Garden City Community College’s athletic director, comes after numerous pleas to place the events of that evening under an independent lens.
In addition to Greene and Atkin-Ingram’s requests, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith. R-N.J., sent a letter to Ruda, the school’s president, while the entire New Jersey Congressional delegation in Washington signed a letter requesting an independent review. State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, requested an external investigation from the Kansas Attorney General’s office, which was rejected.
“It speaks volumes about the power of community, family, love and the strength of New Jersey and it’s political leaders,” Greene said. “All of those factor came into play in making the college do the right thing. I think the college felt we would just go away but it only encouraged us to come together and fight harder for what is right. This is the right thing to do.”
Smith appeared to have brokered a meeting last month between Ruda and Atkins-Ingram, in which Ruda indicted he would share details of the internal investigation. But that meeting was canceled when the school’s attorney, Randy Grisell, made it clear Ruda would not be providing any information.
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Last week, Atkins-Ingram moved forward with a lawsuit in her quest for answers, retaining Kansas attorney Chris Dove to handle the litigation.
Bradforth, a 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman, died of what the autopsy determined to be exertional heatstroke, after an intense conditioning practice on a hot, humid evening, in which linemen were required to run 36 sprints of 50 yards each, with 30 seconds rest in between. Each sprint was to be completed in eight seconds, with players interviewed by the Asbury Park Press indicating that players were not supposed to drink water during the practice.
Bradforth died at an area hospital later that night after collapsing on campus.
Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press sports columnist who has been covering athletics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 35 years. He’s passionate about the area’s rich sports history, and the history being made today. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; firstname.lastname@example.org.