Family of former Wando football player files wrongful death lawsuit

Ja'Quayvin Smalls (Source: Western Carolina)
Ja'Quayvin Smalls (Source: Western Carolina)

JACKSON COUNTY, NC (WCSC) - A wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the family of a former Wando High School football player who died shortly after a workout at Western Carolina in 2009.

The family of Ja'Quayvin Smalls filed the lawsuit against Western Carolina athletic personnel in January. A Western Carolina spokesman said the case has not gone to mediation despite a court's order for a mediated settlement conference.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Jackson County superior court and seeks "a sum in excess of $10,000" and alleges "information about sickle cell trait and exertional sickling was available to all … defendants, who chose to ignore it."

Smalls, a junior college transfer, died shortly after taking part in his first voluntary workout at Western Carolina on July 8, 2009. The autopsy report revealed that complications from an enlarged heart were the cause of Smalls' death. The report also listed sickle cell trait and exertion as factors that contributed to his death.

Western Carolina athletic director Chip Smith, football coach Dennis Wagner, defensive coordinator Matt Pawlowski, head athletic trainer Steven Honbarger, assistant athletic trainer Brandon King and former strength coach Brad Ohrt are listed as the defendants in the lawsuit.

The defendant's legal response to the lawsuit acknowledges that Smalls and his mother, LaSonia Smalls, disclosed that Ja'Quayvin had sickle cell trait on a form entitled "Western Carolina University Athletic-training Services Prospective Student-Athlete Questionnaire."

The defendants also say that "Any remaining allegations … including any inferences to be drawn therefrom, are denied."

Smalls was a standout football player at Wando High School and was just 20 years old when he died.

The mediation and discovery deadline in the case is Dec. 16.

Sickle Cell Anemia is a very common genetic blood disorder. About 100 children in South Carolina are born with Sickle Cell Anemia every year.

Sickle Cell is a blood related disorder where red blood cells from an abnormal crescent or sickle shape. In South Carolina there are about 2000 children born each year with just the Sickle Cell Trait.

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