Garden City Community College Trustees voted Tuesday to spend $100,000 on an independent investigation into the exertional heatstroke death of a football player last August.
The family and friends of 19-year-old Braeden Bradforth from Neptune, New Jersey, have been calling for an independent probe since the teen died after a conditioning practice.
Family lawyer Jill Greene said she got the news just as she was going to sleep. “I was just so excited and elated, and needless to say, I did not get back to sleep last night.”
Greene said Bradforth's mother, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, is thrilled. In April, Atkins-Ingram told a crowd gathered at a New Jersey church that she still had many questions about her son’s death. "How could this happen to him when all he was doing was following his passion?” she asked.
Bradforth died on his second day in Garden City. At practice, the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound lineman, was made to run 36, 50-yard sprints. University of Oklahoma Head Trainer Scott Anderson, a heat stroke expert, said that is too much for a lineman, especially on just his second day on the team. “There has to be a progression of activity, you just can't throw somebody in an intense day one or two workouts for instance and call that good science of sport,” Anderson told KCUR.
The decision to pay for an independent investigation comes after enormous pressure from the New Jersey House delegation. All 12 representatives signed a letter to GCCC President Ryan Ruda in April calling for the probe. "Our New Jersey community mourns Braeden's untimely death," the letter said. "An external, independent investigation offers the only way to assure transparency for investigating the past while looking ahead to prevent future tragedies."
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) took the lead in pushing GCCC for an independent investigation. In a statement Wednesday, he said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the investigation will "reveal what happened during Braeden Bradforth’s last day and what can be done to prevent others from suffering the same fate."
The college maintains outside pressure had nothing to do with its decision. "The Administration has been considering all options and seeking counsel from legal up to this point," GCCC spokesperson Ashley Salazar said in an email.
GCCC did do an internal investigation into Bradforth's death but only released a summary of that probe. The page-and-a-half summary drew no conclusions and was unclear about who was interviewed.
Smith called the summary "grossly inadequate."
The summary did say the college has taken several steps since the teen's death. It's added a trainer, has mandated CPR and first aid training for all coaches and is developing a protocol to recognize and treat heat-related illnesses.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has also weighed in for the first time. Smith and family lawyer Greene both wrote to Kelly asking for her assistance.
In a letter to Bradforth's mother, Kelly wrote that she heard that Braeden "was a promising young man" and that the governor is also a mother "and I can only imagine the anguish you must feel."
However, Kelly stressed that she has no role in the administration of Kansas community colleges, which are run by elected boards of trustees.
This is not the first time GCCC has hired an outside firm to conduction an investigation. In 2018 the college paid a Kansas City law firm $21,000 to investigate allegations that GCCC's former president Herbert Swender "had long fostered a hostile work environment through repeated instances of bullying, retaliation and sexual harassment," according to the Garden City Telegram.
Swender resigned in August but stayed on as a consultant through the end of 2018.