College wrestler in Ga. near death after heat-related incident

ALBANY, Ga. - Darton State College officials said Friday afternoon that wrestler Ben Richards was showing no brain activity, and that family members were waiting for the last relative to arrive to disconnect him from life support.

This followed a confirmation of death the college had received earlier in the day, said Tracy Goode, dean of institutional advancement and public relations at Darton.

"Although we sent an earlier statement per the Richards family, that Ben Richards has passed away, he is at this time on life support with an irreversible condition until all of the family arrives," Goode said in a revised statement late Friday afternoon.

Richards was listed in critical condition after collapsing during a wrestling practice on Sept. 4. Initially at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, he was airlifted to Shands Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville on Sunday after he began showing signs of liver failure.

The wrestling roster on Darton's website shows that he is a graduate of Hillsborough High School in Tampa.

Fellow wrestlers Jaden Smith and Alex Washington — both freshmen — also were hospitalized for heat-related illness last week. Smith has since been released, while Washington remained at Phoebe in good condition on Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said. Washington was the first to be hospitalized on Sept. 3 — the first day of practice — while Smith was sent to Phoebe the same day as Richards after both collapsed during a five-mile run outside.

After establishing a cease-all for wrestling practices immediately following the most recent hospitalizations, the team resumed its training on Wednesday. Earlier this week, James Hicks — the school’s head wrestling coach — said that practices throughout the week would be inside, and when the team was to go outside, it would be at 6 a.m.

At a news conference on Sept. 6, Darton Athletic Director Mike Kiefer said that after Washington became ill, additional water sessions were instituted the following day — as well as extra ones as the wrestlers felt they need them. They were also given more education on proper nutrition and hydration, while officials reached out to medical and training experts to see how protocols could be further modified, he said.

Phone calls to made to Hicks and Kiefer were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.