NU: Doctor destroyed records of Wheeler’s physical

CHICAGO — Lawyers for Rashidi Wheeler’s mother said Tuesdaythey will bring Northwestern’s former director of Searle HealthService into the wrongful-death lawsuit against the universityafter NU alleged that he destroyed records of Wheeler’s lastphysical.

University officials confirmed Tuesday that they believe Dr.Mark Gardner, who performed a physical on Wheeler in July 2001,disposed of all known records of the examination. At a pressconference held at lawyer Johnnie Cochran’s Chicago offices,Cochran and colleague James Montgomery said they will file papersJune 10 asking that Gardner be named a defendant in the case.

Richard Donohue, Gardner’s lawyer, said his client had beenprepared to enter the case.

“He knew this was going to happen and so did I,” Donohuesaid.

He said Gardner’s deposition, originally scheduled for June 19,could be pushed back if he becomes a defendant.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Cochran and Montgomery chastisedNU and said the university participated in a “cover-up.”

“We are speaking out today because we think it is hard tobelieve the amount of deception and lack of character that’s beendemonstrated by all the people at Northwestern,” Cochran said.

But Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations, saidGardner, not NU, was to blame for the missing documents.

“Northwestern University did not participate in the destructionof any medical records,” Cubbage told The Daily. “The record wasthe responsibility of Dr. Gardner.”

In a court document that will be filed later this week, theuniversity asserts that records of the physical were never given tothe Varsity Sports Medicine Department, as they should havebeen.

And according to statements the university also will file laterthis week, repeated attempts to reach Gardner to retrieve therecords were unsuccessful. Dr. Pengwynne Blevins, who became actingdirector of Searle when Gardner took a leave of absence four daysafter Wheeler died, said in a statement that she searched Gardner’soffice for the records. She also said she called Gardner’s wife,Mary Gardner, who brought in her husband’s briefcase.

Blevins said she located some of Wheeler’s records in Gardner’sbriefcase but found no record of the last physical.

The university also will file a statement from Vice Presidentfor Student Affairs William Banis, who oversees Searle, in which hesaid that he made “numerous attempts” to reach Gardner in August2001. He received a letter from Chicago lawyer Gary Starkman datedAug. 27, 2001, saying that it would be “clinically inappropriate”for Gardner to meet with Banis.

In the letter, Starkman wrote that Banis had advised Gardner totake a few days off and that he had come under the care of Dr.Andrew Martorana, a clinical psychiatrist. Starkman asked theuniversity to show Gardner leniency.

“In light of the circumstances,” Starkman wrote to Banis, “yourreferences to ‘grounds for termination of employment’ is highlyinappropriate.”

The statements from both Banis and Blevins have not yet beensigned. They were provided to The Daily by university lawyers.

But Cochran and Montgomery said Tuesday that NU’s justificationswere insufficient.

“To this minute, Northwestern University shamefully does notpublicly accept responsibility for the wrongful actions of its ownemployees for failing to provide timely medical care to RashidiWheeler … and for destroying its own student’s medical records,”Montgomery read from a statement at the beginning of the pressconference.

Cochran also blasted the university for the actions of formerhead trainer Tory Aggeler, who visited Wheeler’s mother, LindaWill, at her Evanston hotel room shortly after Wheeler’s death.Will has said Aggeler gave her a packet of information about thebanned substance ephedra with the intention of persuading her notto bring a lawsuit against the university.

“Northwestern started its plan to deceive immediately afterRashidi’s death,” Cochran said.

Cubbage said Aggeler’s visit was only meant to give Will a”heads-up” that information about Wheeler having ephedra in hisbody at the time of his death was going to become public.

“(The conversation) in no way went to a lawsuit or an attempt toprevent someone from filing a lawsuit,” Cubbage said.

Cochran said NU’s actions were not befitting of its highacademic reputation. “That reputation is besmirched, it seems tome, forever.”

Cubbage said the university always is concerned about itsreputation and the safety of its students. But Chicago Sun-Timescolumnist Rick Telander, a Weinberg alumnus, told The Daily lastweek that he believes the university is not treating Wheeler withproper respect.

“He’s just some black kid from California,” Telander said.”Nobody cares about him. He’s just a hunk of meat.”

Cubbage has said he is not worried that Telander’s writings –which often have been critical of the university — will hurt NU’sreputation.

Although most civil lawsuits end in settlement, Cochran saidthis one might be different.

“I can tell you very much that we would like to try this case,”he said.

A potential trial would not begin for months, or even years, asthe process of gathering evidence continues.