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Northwestern Adds Parties to Suit

Apr 3, 2002 | AP Northwestern University, still disputing the cause of football player Rashidi Wheeler's death, filed papers Wednesday to add manufacturers of a dietary supplement as defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wheeler, an asthmatic, collapsed and died in August during conditioning drills. In court papers, the school says Wheeler ingested two supplements before the drills and that medical evidence shows he suffered a ventricular arrhythmia of his heart.

"We are bringing in the manufacturers of dietary supplements utilized by Rashidi Wheeler. We believe these products were the cause of his death," said Eric Quandt, an attorney representing Northwestern.

But Wheeler's mother, Linda Will, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school, reiterated her contention Wednesday that her son's death was the result of poor medical attention after he collapsed on a field.

Wheeler's father, George Wheeler Jr., also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

"Northwestern has not done the right thing by Rashidi," Will said at a news conference at the Chicago offices of her attorneys, Johnnie Cochran Jr. and James Montgomery. "Some people think my son collapsed and that was it.

"There are people that still don't know that my child lingered, calling out for help, for close to an hour."

Bronchial asthma was listed as the cause of Wheeler's death, though toxicology reports showed he had the banned stimulant ephedrine in his system when he collapsed. The Cook County medical examiner said that had nothing to do with his death.

But Northwestern claims Wheeler's death was not caused by asthma, and the school conducted a review that it said showed there were adequate trainers on hand during the workout. The review did, however, find secondary violations of NCAA (news - web sites) rules, and Northwestern forfeited six football practices as a result.

Named by Northwestern as third-party defendants Wednesday were Next Proteins Inc.; Ultimate Energy Co.; the Ultimate Orange Energy Co.; Cytodyne Technologies Inc.; and General Nutrition Corp. The complaint said those defendants were involved in the manufacture, sale and distribution of the dietary supplements Wheeler ingested before his death.

The complaint said Wheeler ingested Xeandrine RFA-1 and either Ultimate Punch or Ultimate Orange. The products contain ephedrine, a substance prohibited by the NCAA and the NFL.

"It's their judgment in regard to how to try the lawsuit," Cochran said. "We don't mind how many defendants are there. We will deal with them one at a time."

Cochran, meanwhile, asked why the NCAA has not disciplined the school for drills that Will claims amount to "emotional as well as physical abuse." It's been eight months since Wheeler's death, and Cochran said the NCAA has not made a report public or responded to calls from his office.

"If they don't do something now, practice will start this summer and we'll have the same thing," he said.

NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said the NCAA does not discuss individual cases and that there is no timetable for gathering information during an investigation.

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