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16-year-old catcher collapses, dies after pitch hits chest protector

By Caitlin Hagan and Michael Martinez, CNN
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Pitch hits chest, kills teen catcher
  • Dad drops son off at baseball practice at Blessed Sacrament School in New Jersey
  • The 16-year-old boy is wearing his chest protector when a pitched ball hits it
  • The boy stands up and says, "I can't breathe" and then hits the ground

(CNN) -- Authorities were examining the chest protector and awaiting the autopsy results Wednesday of a 16-year-old baseball catcher who collapsed and died last week after being hit in the chest by a pitch during an after-school practice in Paterson, New Jersey, police said.

Thomas Adams, 16, was practicing indoors in the gym of Blessed Sacrament School when he was struck by a pitch, stood up and said, "I can't breathe," authorities said.

"It's an M.E.'s [Medical Examiner's] case now," said Paterson Police Lt. Ronald Humphrey. "There appears to be nothing suspicious."

Police Capt. Heriberto Rodriguez said Wednesday afternoon that the boy was practicing in a league that attracts youths from different nearby towns. Adams didn't attend the school, and the youths were practicing indoors to stay warm, Rodriguez said.

"We don't see anything remotely illegal on this," Rodriguez said. "It just happens to be a freak accident."

The medical examiner will be examining the boy's heart and possibly taking toxicology tests, authorities said.

The boy had been dropped off for baseball practice by his father at 6:15 p.m. last Friday, police said.

Experts say such accidents do occur in prep sports, but it's critical that practice sites have first aid equipment on the scene. It was unclear whether the school had a defibrillator nearby and whether such equipment could have helped the boy, authorities said.

"It's unfortunate. Bottom line is, these things do happen," said Jon Almquist, spokesperson for National Athletic Trainers' Association.

Parents need to know that kids are going to get hurt playing sports, but it's prudent that an organized team or league should have "all their ducks in a row" by having emergency care equipment present, Almquist said.

Dr. Jon Drezner, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Washington and team physician for pro football's Seattle Seahawks, said blunt trauma to a child's chest can send the heart into an abnormal rhythm.

"The other side of prevention is awareness. Parents of children who are at risk -- baseball, softball, hockey and lacrosse -- they should be aware [of such trauma] so in the unlikely circumstance someone collapses, they begin immediate CPR with chest compressions," Drezner said.

"Begin a response as if this is worst case scenario," Drezner said. "Do we have defibrillators? At the college level, this is standard."