Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Although ill, Cochran helped Wheeler family

Deceased Northwestern student Rashidi Wheeler’s family will continue pushing a lawsuit against NU despite the death last week of high-profile attorney Johnnie Cochran, whose law firm handles their case.

“Johnnie assured us that he had made all the provisions so that my case could go forward and be litigated,” said Linda Will, Wheeler’s mother. “We remain determined as ever to seek justice.”

In August 2001, Wheeler collapsed and died from exercise-induced asthma at an NU football practice, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner.

Will contends that her son’s death was the result of overly rigorous workouts and poor medical attention. The university, however, maintains that ephedra-containing supplements produced by three drug companies are responsible.

Will settled with the three companies in November for $100,000.

Cochran, who represented O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial, died March 30 after suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. Cochran has been representing Will from the start of the lawsuit.

NU recently filed an appeal to reverse the November settlement between Will and the drug companies and believes the drug companies should be the school’s co-defendants. The drug companies were originally co-defendants. The case was to be held in New Jersey because one company, now bankrupt, was based there. When the drug companies were removed from the case after the settlement, the trial returned to Cook County Circuit Court.

NU chief attorney Thomas Cline said the university filed one appeal in the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia about three weeks ago as an attempt to reverse the settlement and keep the case in New Jersey.

A second appeal was filed to prevent parties from sharing evidence for the case in Cook County until the Philadelphia appeal is ruled on.

Will said NU offered her a settlement in talks several months ago, but an agreement was not reached.

Vice President for University Relations Alan Cubbage declined to comment on whether the university offered a settlement.

“It is almost always the policy of the university to attempt to settle cases before they go to trial,” Cubbage said.

Cubbage said the settlement between the drug companies and Wheeler’s family was inappropriate.

James Montgomery and Thomas Marszewski, attorneys at The Cochran Firm’s Chicago office, are leading the case for Will. Neither attorney returned repeated calls from The Daily.

Will said she and Cochran met with the NCAA. She said they were partially responsible for an NCAA decision to require teams to have defibrillators and oxygen tanks at athletic facilities.

Cochran also held several press conferences to bring publicity to Wheeler’s case, Will said. She spoke with praise about the late attorney.

“He was very inspiring and he gave a voice to us who would otherwise not have one,” Will said. “I was very impressed with his determination even throughout his own health problems.”

Reach Jason B. Gumer at [email protected].

Quick facts:

  • Aug. 3, 2001, Rashidi Wheeler collapses during football practice.
  • Aug. 20, 2001, The medical examiner’s report cites the cause of Wheeler’s death as exercise-induced bronchial asthma. Ephedrine, a substance banned by the NCAA, is found in his system.
  • July 30, 2003, Linda Will’s attorneys added more defendants to the lawsuit, including Dr. Mark Gardner, former Searle Student Health Service director, and four drug companies. Earlier that month, Gardner admitted to destroying Wheeler’s medical records.
  • Nov. 19, 2004, a New Jersey federal judge approved a $100,000 settlement Wednesday between the family of Rashidi Wheeler and three dietary supplement companies.
  • Linda Will, Wheeler’s mother, said NU officials offered her a settlement a few months ago, but an agreement could not be reached.
  • Two appeals have been filed in the past three weeks. One attempts to reverse the settlement decision. The second tries to prevent parties from sharing evidence.
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Although ill, Cochran helped Wheeler family