Lawsuit: SC teen's 2016 death related to football team's practice punishment in summer heat

Lexington District One responds to lawsuit
Published: Jun. 19, 2018 at 12:43 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 19, 2018 at 1:13 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - The family of a River Bluff High School football player who died during practice two years ago has now filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Lewis Simpkins, 14, died on Aug. 10, 2016, after being rushed to the hospital during football practice.

The lawsuit claims Lexington District One, the state's High School League, the South Carolina Board of Education and others failed to protect student-athletes from dangerous conditions - practicing in the 95-degree heat.

"Lewis Simpkins...was an outstanding high school football player in his hometown of Lexington, SC," the lawsuit says. "Lewis was a hulking 6-foot-2 and 270-pound defensive tackle who had hoped to eventually play at Clemson University."

Simpkins' family says the team practiced outside, in full pads, for two hours in extreme heat after handily losing a scrimmage the day before. The lawsuit says many players including Lewis struggled.

"On Aug. 10, 2016, River Bluff football team had a full-pads practice. According to former players, it was the hardest practice they had ever had. The practice was a punishment of sorts for the poor performance in the scrimmage against Greenwood the day prior," the lawsuit said. "The heat index during practice was 95 degrees according to the National Weather Service. People should exercise "extreme caution" with prolonged exposure to heat index conditions above 90, according to the weather service's general warning about heat indexes. River Bluff's football team practiced for more than two hours in the conditions.

The lawsuit claims careless, reckless and grossly negligent action caused Simpkins' death. His family is asking for a jury trial to determine the number of damages.

When asked about the lawsuit, Lexington School District 1 Superintendent Dr. Greg Little said: "We certainly can't comment on ongoing litigation. But, we continue to keep the family of Lewis Simpkins in our thoughts and prayers. They are, after all, part of the Lexington District One family, and we will always consider them to be part of our Gator Nation."

For their part, the Simpkins family says Lewis' spirit lives on in his works and the foundation started in his memory. They released a statement from their attorneys, which says:

Lewis Simpkins was a 14-year old young man who died on August 10, 2016. He was a man of Christian faith who had a profound impact on those he met. To honor his legacy, the family has established the Lewis Nathaniel Simpkins Foundation to continue Lewis’ work by supporting Christ centered missions, building indoor athletic training facilities for public high schools, providing college scholarships for S.T.E.A.M. scholars as well as providing sponsorships for engineering, athletic, and music camps.

Lewis personified good character in all he lived to accomplish. From his infectious smile to the abundance of laughter, to have met him was to love him! His passion outside of his faith was helping and encouraging his fellow peers while always being respectful to those in authority. Today, Lewis AKA “Big Lew” 6’2, 270lbs, Size 14 shoe is continuing to touch and change lives!

Lewis was scheduled to tour Clemson University International Center of Automotive Research on September 12, 2016, with plans to apply to Clemson’s school of engineering in the fall of 2017.  The following scholarships and awards named in Lewis’ honor have been given to S.T.E.M. scholars and student-athletes with plans to further their education here in South Carolina:

2016 Lewis Nathaniel Simpkins Memorial Scholarship

2016 Boy Scouts Troop 306: dedicated a bench on the school’s walking trail in Lewis’ memory #USWE90.

2016 River Bluff Concert Band, Lewis Simpkins Inspired Original Score:  If Heaven Had a Window, Joshua V. Hinkel, Composer

2016 Lewis Simpkins Award for Character:  a student-athlete received first ever character award presented by the River Bluff athletics department.

2017 Lewis Nathaniel Simpkins Memorial Scholarship: $1000.00 scholarship was awarded to a senior S.T.E.M. scholar from Lexington High School who is currently attending Clemson University School of Construction Science. 

2017 Lewis Simpkins Scholarship: $2,500.00 was awarded to a student-athlete signed to Clemson University track team in 2017.

2017 The Walk-Ons Radio Show: honored (10) student-athletes with the Lewis Simpkins Player of the Game Award.

2017 Lewis Nathaniel Simpkins Foundation, Inc.: on August 10, 2017, the foundation was established and the public launch is planned for August 10, 2019. The public launch will be dedicated to Lewis’ would be high school graduating year; Class of 2019.

2018 Lewis Nathaniel Simpkins Memorial Scholarship: $1000.00 scholarship was awarded to a senior from River Bluff High planning to attend the University of South Carolina majoring in Biomedical Engineering.

The Simpkins family is hopeful that these awards will not only honor Lewis’ legacy but also provide hope to students as they graduate and move towards fulfilling their dreams and vision.

You can read the full lawsuit here:

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