Pro Wrestling Under Fire After Child's Death

ByABC News

July 25, 2001 -- Professional wrestling is being blamed again for the death of another child whose mother says he was imitating moves he saw on TV.

Last week, 9-year-old, 65-pound Derek Garland died from injuries suffered after rough-housing with his 16-year-old, 225-pound friend Jason Crabb.

Police are still investigating the exact cause of the death and have not decided whether to press charges against Crabb. However, an autopsy showed that Derek suffered injuries to his neck and head.

Julie Garland, Derek's mother, said she didn't want her son to watch wrestling and feared he would hurt himself imitating wrestling moves.

"I never liked wrestling to begin with," Garland said. "I didn't like Derek watching it, but he liked to watch, and I did not like it. I don't believe it's possible for them to throw each other around like that and nobody get hurt, and I think we've all learned that the hard way."

Crabb is the son of Garland's fiancée. Derek's parents are separated. On July 17, Derek's mother left the two boys alone in their home while she went to the store. According to North Carolina police, Crabb said he and Derek began grappling and Derek jumped off a bed onto his much larger opponent's back. Crabb, police said, allegedly flipped Derek over his back and the boy landed on his neck and back.

Derek started having trouble breathing, and Crabb called 911. Derek later died from his injuries at Wilkes Regional Medical Center.

While investigators are still mulling whether to press charges against the teenager, Wilkes County Sheriff Dane Mastin said parents need to warn their children not to mimic what they see on wrestling programs.

"We need to caution folks about kids watching this and attempting to mimic these very specialized and well-trained athletes in making these moves, that they shouldn't be trying that stuff," Mastin said.

Wrestling: Don’t Rush to Judge Us

Gary Davis, spokesman for World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc said pro wrestling should not be blamed for Derek's death as it was in the Lionel Tate case. Noting that The World Wrestling Federation had not been mentioned by name in Derek Garland's death, Davis claimed media coverage of the Tate case fueled a "rush to judgment" that he feared would be repeated.

"It's really difficult to make a comment until all the facts are known in the unfortunate death of this boy from North Carolina," said Davis. "The investigation is still going on. In the Tate case, the reporting on that case led to a rush to judgment that may continue in this case. We hope that it won't happen in this case but unfortunately, we believe it will."

Last March, Tate, 14, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing a 6-year-old Florida girl.

Tate's lawyers tried to argue that the boy's infatuation with pro wrestling and wrestlers such as "The Rock" were to blame for the death. However, the judge limited that argument, rejecting defense requests to have wrestlers testify and allowing only limited testimony about Tate's love of wrestling.

On all of its programs The World Wrestling Federation makes public service announcements warning viewers not to imitate wrestlers' moves, stressing that its athletes are well trained and still get hurt in the ring. WWF officials also have condemned backyard wrestling, where untrained fans participate in unsponsored matches, mimicking moves and using chairs and tables as weapons. ABCNEWS' Andrew Colton and Bryan Robinson contributed to this report.

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