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January 28, 2004

Cause of death of FSDB student under investigation

From: St. Augustine Record, FL - Jan 28, 2004

Staff Writer

A 17-year-old student studying at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind died Monday evening after collapsing next to a coach during wrestling practice, according to the school's public information director Kathy Gillespie.

Esdras D'Haiti, a junior studying in the deaf department, was pronounced dead at Flagler Hospital a little after 6 p.m. His cause of death is under investigation by the St. Johns County Medical Examiner's Office.

Officials there said reports probably won't be back for a couple of months.

Gillespie said D'Haiti had wrestled for a brief time with another student, then went to the sideline to watch other students practice. "Suddenly, this happened," Gillespie said.

She said the school is undergoing an investigation into the moments leading to D'Haiti's death, including interviewing the people who were near him when he collapsed.

"It appeared that everything that could have been done at the time of the student's collapse was done," said Mary Jane Dillon, chairman of the board of trustees for FSDB. She added that medical support was at his side immediately afterward.

D'Haiti took a charter bus from his hometown Miami every week to study culinary arts at the school. Gillespie said this year was his first at the school. "It was his dream to go home to Miami and be a chef," Gillespie said.

She said he was studying with a tutor to keep his grades up. His plan was to take culinary arts classes at the First Coast Technical Institute during his senior year and possibly after graduation, Gillespie said.

A cousin from Miami came to St. Augustine after hearing D'Haiti had died, but did not wish to speak publicly about the loss, Gillespie said. "She was very, very upset about all of this," Gillespie said.

To help the students cope with the loss, word was sent out Tuesday morning to all staff working in the dormitories and various academic departments. "Any of the students might need grief type counseling, that will be provided for them," Gillespie said, adding that a letter will go home on the buses with students Friday to let parents know about D'Haiti's death.

"It's always difficult when you are separated from your children and certainly any reassurance we can offer to the parents we would be anxious to give," Dillon said.

There are about 865 students at the school, 725 attending school and the rest in outreach and mother-infant programs, Gillespie said. D'Haiti was one of about 500 students from all over the state who stayed in the campus dormitories during the week. She said his death was a great loss.

"People have just sort of been in shock," she said. "It's been very somber."

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