2 Orioles pitchers testify in Bechler heatstroke case

Bauer, Riley final ones on club queried in lawsuit

March 19, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - While the eyes of America were on six of baseball's biggest names discussing steroids Thursday, two Orioles pitchers were at a South Florida hearing involving another banned substance.

Rick Bauer and Matt Riley appeared at deposition hearings Thursday as part of the ongoing third-party lawsuit involving the Orioles and the 2003 heatstroke death of pitcher Steve Bechler.

They are likely the last among a group of at least a dozen Orioles players and staff to be called for a deposition in the past two months, according to Pete Murphy, an attorney in the Florida-based Kubicki, Draper law firm that is representing the Orioles.

"Right now, it appears there are no further scheduled depositions of Orioles employees or personnel," Murphy said.

Bauer and Riley were close friends of Bechler, 23, who collapsed and died Feb. 17, 2003, one day after participating in spring training workouts. A bottle of Xenadrine RFA-1, a then-over-the-counter dietary supplement that contained the stimulant ephedra, was discovered in Bechler's locker and a subsequent medical examiner's report linked the drug, among other factors, to the heatstroke.

Bechler's widow, Kiley, filed a $600 million wrongful death lawsuit against several ephedra defendants including the manufacturer, Cytodyne Technologies Inc. (now Nutraquest Inc. of Wall Township, N.J.), the store in which the pills were purchased and the lab that made the drug, Murphy said.

The Orioles were not named in Kiley Bechler's suit. However, the defendants then filed a third-party suit against the Orioles, saying that the organization was negligent in its handling of Bechler.

According to Murphy, there have been more than 50 federal suits filed against ephedra-based manufacturers claiming illness or death, and most have been consolidated into a few test cases.

The Bechler case is one of those, and it is tentatively scheduled for a mid-July trial in Trenton, N.J., Murphy said. The Orioles will attempt to get a summary judgment, dismissing them from what they believe is a frivolous action by a company that has filed for bankruptcy.

"Kiley Bechler chose not to sue the Orioles; that was a responsible decision on her part," said team general legal counsel H. Russell Smouse. "The claim which was brought against the Orioles by the drug manufacturer is outrageous. It has no foundation in law or on the facts."

Among those in the organization who have been deposed since January are: executive vice president Jim Beattie, vice president Mike Flanagan, clubhouse manager Jim Tyler, former pitching coach Mark Wiley, bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, assistant athletic trainer Brian Ebel, and players Larry Bigbie, Keith Reed, John Parrish, Bauer and Riley, a club source confirmed.

The depositions have taken between two and seven hours.

Bauer's lasted five hours Thursday.

"They wanted to know things about what he did and the timetables in which he did them," said Bauer, a former roommate of Bechler's. "I think they were trying to compile some type of bio on what kind of things he was doing."

Riley's first session in January, conducted in Baltimore, lasted five hours. It was continued with two more hours Thursday.

Part of his testimony was about the diet supplement bottle in Bechler's locker that Riley discovered and initially threw away before it was retrieved as evidence.

"They just wanted to clarify why I threw the bottle away and if it was the correct bottle," Riley said. "Just regular questions that lawyers ask."

Both men said the depositions stirred up difficult memories.

"It [stinks] to have to rehash the past tragic moments that happened," Riley said. "But there is a case that needs to be taken care of."

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