Nearly two years to the day after his death, a significant development has been uncovered in the Ted Agu case. Agu, a Cal walk-on with sickle cell trait, collapsed and died during a workout on Feb. 7, 2014, and documents obtained by the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program and shared with the San Francisco Chronicle show the university has admitted negligence in the player’s death.
Agu’s parents, Ambrose and Emilia Agu, are suing UC Berkeley for wrongful death over how Agu was treated in the moments proceeding his death.
Cal told the media at the time Agu died of a heart condition and that head strength coach Damon Harrington and trainer Robert Jackson did not notice signs of Agu struggling to complete an especially arduous workout and that he resisted Cal staffers’ help, insisting, “I’m good.”
But testimony from Agu’s teammates differs significantly from that account.
Writes the Chronicle:
Daniel Lasco, a running back and team captain at the time, was on the rope with Agu during the drill. He said he assigned Agu to lead their group up the hill, which required him at times to pull the other players behind him. Former offensive lineman Matt Cochran, who was injured and observed from the drill route’s periphery, described Agu falling multiple times and showing signs of fatigue beginning about midway through the workout.
After teammates noticed Agu struggling, Lasco took his place at the front of the rope. Lasco testified of his time leading the drill: “It felt like you were pulling three tires behind you. … When I was up there, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I let him do this.’”
Jacobi Hunter, a former defensive tackle who was also injured that day and walked the route, testified that Jackson, the trainer, was looking directly at Agu when he fell, and did not offer aid.
About halfway up the hill on their last lap, Lasco testified, Agu finally stopped, bent over, fell to his knees, then curled into a fetal position. A few players said they helped him up and walked a few steps with him before he fell down again.
“It’s like something just pulled a battery out of him, and he just stopped working,” cornerback Trevellous Cheek said during his deposition.
Players said they threw water on Agu and yelled for team trainers.
Cal football head physician Dr. Casey Batten informed the staff Agu carried sickle cell trait, documents show, and that he should cease activity as soon as symptoms appear.
After Agu’s parents asked then-Alameda County chief forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Beaver to read players’ accounts of the incident, the Chronicle writes, Beaver changed his opinion from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to acute sickle cell crisis for the cause of Agu’s death. “Although UC Berkeley officials say they provided the coroner’s office with the medical records it requested, which included Agu’s sickle cell status, Beaver insists his former office never got any information from the university on the subject,” the paper writes. “Two interviews with football players by the UC Berkeley Police Department, which the family’s attorneys say described Agu struggling, were never sent to the coroner’s bureau, whose personnel declined to discuss the issue.” Dr. Michael Ferenc formally altered Agu’s cause of death in October.
UC Berkeley officially admitted liability in court in an effort to move forward with appropriately compensating the Agu family in advance of a jury trial slated for April, the university said in a statement to the paper.