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Football player died of meningitis; lawsuit filed

Aaron O'Neal
Aaron O'Neal


Kansas City, MO – The Boone County Medical Examiner says viral meningitis killed an University of Missouri football player last month.

The player's family has filed a lawsuit, blaming 14 athletics officials at the University of Missouri for failing to prevent the death.

The lawsuit was filed in Boone County Tuesday shortly after a medical examiner said O'Neal died of viral meningitis.

Aaron O'Neal, 19, collapsed during a workout July 12, and later died. Medical Examiner Valerie Rao says O'Neal exhibited symptoms of distress during the workout, but says she cannot say whether different medical care may have saved his life.

Rao determined the cause of death after consulting with two colleagues on test results of O'Neal's brain and says she did not initially suspect the virus.

"It's extremely rare, I mean really, really rare. I thought it was going to be a cardiac death, just based on very preliminary investigation, that I was aware of," Rao said. "But after all the pieces of the investigation, and autopsy reports all came through, came through, it was not a cardiac death, it was neurological."

Rao says she does not know how or when O'Neal contracted the virus, and is waiting for more results from tests sent to the Centers for Disease Control.

O'Neal struggled during a voluntary workout July 12th and had to be helped off the field. He was taken to the football team's offices before being driven to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 90 minutes after the workout ended.

Rao says the meningitis made O'Neal's brain swell, eventually causing him to stop breathing properly. But attorney Bob Blitz says viral meningitis is rarely fatal and that O'Neal would have lived with prompt attention.

Names in the suit include Mizzou Athletic Director Mike Alden and football coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel pointed out Tuesday that he stayed away from the July 12th workout as required by NCAA rules.