By Asbury Park Press Staff Writer Stephen Edelson
On April 23, less than two weeks after Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., appeared to broker a long-awaited meeting between the president of a Kansas college and the grieving mother of a former Neptune High School football standout who died there last summer, the face-to-face encounter was put on hold.
Now more lawmakers are getting involved.
All 12 New Jersey members of the House of Representatives on April 30 jointly signed a letter imploring the school to authorize an external, independent investigation into the incident.
The plea for action comes after the meeting between Garden City Community College President Ryan Ruda and Joanne Atkins-Ingram, whose son, Braeden Bradforth, died of heatstroke on Aug. 1, 2018, was called off.
In the letter, Smith and his Washington, D.C., colleagues state that: “On behalf of Braeden’s surviving family members and friends from our State, the New Jersey delegation joins in the request for an external, independent investigation into this tragedy.”
“Our New Jersey community mourns Braeden’s untimely death and there are significant unanswered questions. An external, independent investigation offers the only way to assure transparency for investigating the past while looking ahead to prevent future tragedies.”
At issue with the meeting cancellation was Ruda’s offer to Smith to provide details from the internal investigation conducted by the school, the only inquiry of any kind into the incident, which the family, as well as the public, has been denied access to.
But the school subsequently said Ruda would not be providing information from the investigation. That prompted Smith to postpone the meeting until the school is willing to provide more transparency about the events surrounding the death.
“I was disappointed, but I am not shocked because this is what it’s been from the very beginning,” Atkins-Ingram said. “So but it’s not surprising, but at this point, I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to just sit down and speak, so now we just have to continue to apply the pressure.’’
It’s the latest setback for Atkins-Ingram in her search for answers, as well as accountability, about how her 19-year-old son, who arrived at school two days earlier, died after a strenuous conditioning test.
“I think Ryan Ruda really does have a heart somewhere down there, and I think he spoke prematurely when he said he would speak to us, because then that lawyer stopped everything really quickly,” Atkins-Ingram said.
In a letter from Smith to Ruda, obtained by the Asbury Park Press, the congressman said: “In a telephone conversation on April 11, you told me, as well as my chief of staff in a subsequent conversation, that you would discuss the internal review that had been conducted, including witness observations and that you would consider sharing the internal review with Braeden’s mom.
“On the April 19 phone conversation, (the school attorney) said that you and any other college officials would only discuss general information which is now included in a short “summary’’ of the internal review.’’
Smith also notes in the letter: “It is now more important than ever that an independent, external review is conducted to address the many unanswered questions surrounding Braeden’s death.’’
The school, as well as the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, have said there will not be an independent investigation into Braeden’s death.
According to Avon attorney Jill Elaine Greene, who represents Atkins-Ingram, the school consistently has stonewalled their attempts to seek information about Braeden’s final hours.
“We were just about to buy the airline tickets, which were nonrefundable and not cheap, and the next thing I get a call from the congressman’s office saying `don’t do anything,’ because (school attorney) Randy Grisell is saying they will not cooperate with us,’’ Greene said.
The Asbury Park Press reported that the school had deleted surveillance video from the campus the evening Bradforth died, allowing it to be overwritten rather than preserving it for any investigation.
According to accounts from interviews by the Asbury Park Press with former teammates at Garden City, Bradforth was in distress during a conditioning drill on a hot, humid evening that involved running 36 sprints of 50 yards each in less than 10 seconds, with 30 seconds between sprints, while water was withheld from the players.
Bradforth, a 6-4, 305-pound offensive lineman, missed a team meeting after practice and was found by players collapsed on campus. He died at a local hospital a short time later.
Garden City head coach Jeff Sims, who has since left Garden City to become the head coach at Missouri Southern State University, said that he had been told Braeden died of a blood clot. An autopsy completed in late November listed the cause of death as “exertional heatstroke.”
Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press sports columnist who has been covering local athletics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 35 years. He’s passionate about the area’s rich sports history, and the history being made today. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; firstname.lastname@example.org
This story originally appeared online in the Asbury Park Press on April 24, was updated on April 30, and can be read here: https://www.app.com/story/sports/2019/04/24/nj-football-player-death-kansas-college-cancels-meeting-grieving-mom/3559489002/