CLEARWATER — Richard Serra started late as a wrestler, but in his senior year at Countryside High he came on strong enough to finish third in his district and advance to regionals. Before he could wrestle at that level, though, any dream of a surprise run to the state tournament was shattered in a few moments in a school hallway.
The last thing Serra, 18, remembers about the Feb. 10 incident is going to his locker. There, according to police reports, Serra and another student began some horseplay that resulted in Serra slamming his head. Blood and fluid oozed out of his left ear. He didn't know where he was and was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Peterburg. Serra remained in intensive care for three days and was hospitalized for six.
"Then it hit me,'' Serra said of waking up in a hospital bed. "I'm probably not going to go to regionals. One day I was a pretty decent wrestler. The next, I can barely walk straight and I can't take my shirt off by myself."
Clearwater police determined it was an accident.
"This is a case of two students mutually wrestling around with each other in the hall, and as a result of this mutual horseplay, a serious injury resulted," the police report said.
But Serra's family has hired an attorney and plans to sue the school system.
"You look at things that happen at a school and ask what could have or should have been done to prevent this incident from occurring," said Andy Steingold, the Serras' attorney. "Were there prior occurrences with the student? Who was present? Just umpteen things to look at."
Andrea Zahn, the school systems spokesperson, declined to comment because of pending litigation.
According to Serra (the Times is not naming the other student because of his age) and the Clearwater police, here's what happened that day:
Serra said the other student wandered into his second-period class and the two had a conversation until his teacher asked the student to leave. Serra, who ran up a 22-12 record wrestling at 103 pounds, said he told the other student about the upcoming regional wrestling match.
Later, in his last class of the day, Serra asked his teacher if he could leave 15 minutes early to go to his television production class and work on a project.
"I went to my locker to put my stuff away and that's all I remember," he said.
According to the police report, the other student said he had skipped his class and "saw Serra walking around also." The student said he and Serra greeted each other and the two started to wrestle, and that Serra tried to put a wrestling move on him.
He "then picked Serra up and grabbed Serra around the chest/rib area," the report said. "He went to throw Serra over his shoulder but Serra's weight was to much for him and lost his grip."
Several witnesses support the student's account, according to the report. Teacher Sharon Buckman didn't see the beginning of the incident but "did see the part where (the student) picked Serra up and threw him on the ground."
The student was suspended for 15 days. Serra was left with a broken left rib, fractured left skull behind the ear, a ruptured ear drum and a broken left collar bone that required surgery. He isn't expected back at school until March 25.
"I could have gone to states," Serra said of his wrestling season. "Who knows what could have happened? "
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or firstname.lastname@example.org