Local News

Autopsy: Chapel Hill football player's death unexplained

Posted March 18, 2009 10:24 a.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2009 6:45 p.m. EDT

— Medical examiners were unable to find a definite cause of death of Atlas Fraley, a Chapel Hill High School football player who died in August several hours after after participating in a scrimmage, according to an autopsy report released Wednesday.

A history of cramping and similar symptoms, along with possibly being dehydrated, could have resulted in a "fatal cardiac event or even an acute asthmatic attack," the autopsy report said.

"No definite explanation for this young man's death is evident at autopsy," the report states. "The history of a prior cramping episode and that similar symptoms have occurred in relatives raises the possibility of an inherited disorder of metabolism affecting muscle function ... It may be that there are multiple factors involved."

Fraley, 17, was a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle for Chapel Hill High who participated in an Aug. 12 scrimmage at Middle Creek High in Apex. His parents found him unresponsive in their home that evening.

Fraley had called 911 from his house shortly before 2 p.m. that day, complaining of muscle cramps and dehydration and asking paramedics to provide him with intravenous fluids.

He wasn't taken to a hospital. It remains unclear whether he refused to be taken to one or paramedics thought he was well enough to stay at home alone.

The autopsy report states the paramedic who responded felt Fraley was stable and, before he left, told the player to drink fluids.

Orange County Emergency Services officials issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying they "deeply regret" Fraley's death, but they cited personnel and medical privacy regulations in declining to release details of an internal investigation of the case.

Donald Strickland, an attorney for the Fraley family, said the autopsy report doesn't address whether paramedics should have taken the teen to a hospital or whether he had a better chance of surviving in a hospital than at home.

"(The) report simply states that Atlas died from natural causes, but does not shed any light on whether Atlas would have survived if he had been taken to the hospital rather than being left home alone by the paramedic that responded to the 911 call," Strickland said in a statement. "Now that the autopsy report is complete, we will continue our investigation into the tragic death of this fine young man."

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools also is investigating his death to determine whether school personnel could have done something differently the day Fraley died. Ken Soo, an attorney for the school district, said officials were awaiting the autopsy report to complete their review and expect to submit their findings to the school board in the next week or two.