Wheeler’s mother faces challenge

Sheila Burt

In a new twist in the ongoing Rashidi Wheeler lawsuit, Wheeler’s mother could be removed as co-administrator of his estate so that the case could settle with a possible $16 million payment from Northwestern.

According to a six-page court document filed on July 11, Wheeler’s mother, Linda Will, “has, in her own mistaken misconstruction of her interest, blocked the settlement.” The document was submitted by George B. Collins, the newly appointed guardian to represent the interests of Wheeler’s three half-brothers. Collins could not be reached for comment.

The court appointed Collins as guardian of the estate on June 9.

Wheeler, a 22-year-old football player, died at a routine practice in August 2001. The Cook County Medical examiner ruled he died from exercise-induced asthma, but Wheeler’s divorced parents sued NU alleging inadequate medical attention. The university blames Wheeler’s death on supplements containing the NCAA-banned substance ephedra.

Since then, the case has made several turns. In November, a New Jersey federal judge approved a $100,000 settlement between Wheeler’s family and three dietary supplement companies. This action removed the companies as NU’s co-defendants and allowed the trial to return to Cook County Circuit Court.

Will said in a phone interview from her California home that she is simply “asking for my day in court,” and that she will not agree to a settlement she never wanted.

“This is a case about the most tragic, inhumane stories,” she said. “I just hope to try to do justice to it.”

Will, who recently fired lawyer James Montgomery, said she has had past disagreements with attorneys, but her commitment to the case remains firm.

“It’s as if talking to me (they’ve said), ‘You have to settle. You cannot have your day in court,'” she said. “I don’t plan on being that guinea pig.”

Alan Cubbage, vice president for university relations, could not confirm the $16 million settlement figure. He said the university is prepared to go to trial but “is looking at alternative means of settling.”

“It’s our belief, continued belief, that Mr. Wheeler’s death was caused by his taking ephedra-containing substances,” he said. “That position has not changed.”

In the filed report to Cook County Judge Kathy Flanagan, Collins, the guardian, states that the only way for the case to settle would be to replace Will as co-administrator of Wheeler’s estate.

“. . .her grief over the loss of her son is such that she cannot agree to any settlement without non-financial terms that represent vindication of the life of the deceased rather than recovery.”

Wheeler’s three half-brothers, who are minors, are included in his estate with his parents. The document states that “money for the minors is more important than any form of vindication and that non-financial vindication is a waste and mismanagement of the estate of the deceased.”

But Will said, as someone who raised and loved Wheeler, her feelings “should not be discarded.” She added that she shouldn’t have to substantiate to anyone her right to go to trial.

“At this point in time, I would rather entrust, as far that decision of what I get and what I don’t get, with 12 jurors,” she said. “If I don’t want to settle, it is their right, Northwestern’s right, to offer and it is also my right to reject it.”

The next status hearing is scheduled for Monday at Cook County Circuit Court.

The Daily’s Elizabeth Kirk contributed to this report.

Reach Sheila Burt at [email protected].