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Sachem East football player lawsuit would look to establish blame

Joshua Mileto, an 11th-grader at Sachem East High

Joshua Mileto, an 11th-grader at Sachem East High School, was fatally injured during an offseason football practice drill on school grounds on Aug. 10, 2017, when a log fell on his head, police said. The attorney for his family has filed a notice of claim against the school district and the Sachem East Touchdown Club, which sponsored the practice camp. Photo Credit: Mileto Family

The lawyer for the family of Joshua Mileto, who died last month during a training drill at a football camp at Sachem East High School, said it will be critical to learn who oversaw the log-carrying drill and who was responsible for the coaches working at the camp — the school district, the parent-run booster club or both.

Attorney Jay Dankner, a senior partner of Dankner Milstein P.C., filed a notice of claim Wednesday against the Sachem Central School District and the Sachem East Touchdown Club, which sponsored the camp. A notice of claim is required to inform a municipality of the intention to file a lawsuit.

Joshua Mileto, 16, died Aug. 10 when a 400-pound log he was carrying with four other players fell on his head.

The notice of claim, obtained by Newsday, said the family is seeking $15 million — split equally between the district and the booster club, which is registered as a nonprofit organization.

The decision to name both parties as defendants, Dankner said, is because the relationship between the school and the booster club is “vague.” The lawsuit could ultimately name the coaches because questions remain about the camp’s workings and the involvement of the booster club, he said.

“Who were they working for? Admittedly we don’t really know that yet,” Dankner said of the coaches. “The reason both entities are named is that both played a role in running this preseason camp, which included a dangerous exercise or drill that young boys never should have been undertaking.”

The school district and the booster club are being represented by attorneys from different firms. Neither firm would comment for this story.

The Sachem school district responded to Mileto’s death by reassigning head football coach Mark Wojciechowski and an unnamed assistant coach while it investigates the accident. That investigation remains ongoing. Suffolk police determined criminal charges were not warranted.

Booster clubs, commonplace on Long Island, are set up to raise money to support athletic programs. Many are registered as nonprofit organizations and file yearly tax returns.

The Sachem East Touchdown Club’s 2015 tax filing, obtained by Newsday, reported that it raised $155,149 through various functions, such as running the concessions at games, and plant sales. The group’s biggest expense in 2015 was the summer camp, described in the tax filing as “an annual program that starts at the end of June and runs through the middle of August and supports the JV and varsity programs for the upcoming season.”

The camp’s expenses totaled $41,677, according to the 2015 tax filing.

Uniondale attorney Michael Duffy, who works on civil negligence cases, said: “If the school is able to establish that the coaches are not their employees and not their agents at the time of this event, then the school would take the position that they have no liability.”

Michael Kaplen, a George Washington University law professor, said he doesn’t know of any specific examples where a school district has attempted to shift blame to a booster club. He said he thinks doing so would be difficult because high school coaches ran the camp on school property, which gives people ample reason to believe the district endorsed the camp.

New York State Education Department advises schools that booster clubs should not be seen as an extension of the district. It advises that when a booster club uses school property for events, schools “want to be careful . . . not to violate section 414 of EL (education law) regarding building usage.”

That law says, in part, the school should set rules for use of its property that “provide for the safety and security of the pupils.”

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